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Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 17:43 GMT
Inquiries ordered into Lagos blasts
The search continues for the many who are missing
Many were drowned in the canal
Pressure is growing on the Nigerian authorities to explain Sunday's weapons dump fire in the city of Lagos which caused more than 600 deaths.


It is just an accident that happened and it can happen anywhere

Colonel Felix Chukwuma
As the country observed a day of mourning, the two houses of the Nigerian parliament set up their own independent inquiries into the disaster.

President Olesegun Obasanjo has ordered the army to conduct its own investigation.

But public anger turned on the military after the devastating blasts which sent shells, bombs and rockets raining down over the city.

Army spokesman Felix Chukwuma told the BBC that the incident was an accident that could have happened anywhere.

President Olusegun Obasanjo
President Obasanjo spoke of a "monumental tragedy"
Although the fires and explosions are over, BBC Nigeria correspondent Dan Isaacs says the hospital and mortuaries are full and families are still searching for missing relatives.

"Many thousands of people, most of them children, have been displaced. There are thousands still missing," Red Cross spokesman Patrick Bawa told the French AFP news agency.

The Red Cross had set up two camps to register displaced people and to provide food, water, clothing and comfort, he said.

The biggest loss of life occurred when hundreds of people fleeing the area ran into a canal and drowned.

Click here for a map of the area

Inquiries

Colonel Chukwuma said a military board of inquiry was investigating how fire spread to the weapons store inside a barracks.


The army - they ruin this country for so many years and now they scatter our city
Lagos resident Edwin Ojila

But the Senate and House of Representatives have both set up their own inquiries, ordering their defence committees to report within 14 days.

Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu has specifically blamed the military for the incident.

One caller to a Lagos radio station on Monday agreed.

"It is the military that has done this and someone, not the military, should start an immediate inquiry," he said.

No army casualties

Colonel Chukwuma said there had been no casualties at all inside the barracks, because people there had been warned of the impending disaster and had time to escape.

Correspondents say if that is so, then questions will undoubtedly be asked as to why people outside the barracks were not also warned.

Fire at Nigerian army dump
High-calibre weapons exploded in the fire
Asked why ammunition was stored so close to people's homes, Colonel Chukwuma said the barracks was there before housing spread to the area.

He also appeared to discount earlier reports that the fire had spread from a local market, saying it was "far away from the depot".

Colonel Chukwuma said the "real causes" of the tragedy would be found.

The army has been trying to allay speculation that the explosions resulted from an attempted coup d'etat.

Bodies found

Nigerian barracks are like towns in themselves. Soldiers live there with their families and traders often set up stalls inside.

The worst tragedy befell the residents of Isolo district, next to the military compound.

As they fled through the night to what they believed was a safety of a banana plantation, they began to slip down a muddy embankment and into a swampy canal.

Hundreds were drowned or crushed under the weight of the crowd. Most of the victims were women, small children and babies.

President Obasanjo made a statement on national television and radio on Monday evening, describing the disaster as "a monumental tragedy".




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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Emma Simpson
"Only bodies are being found now"
The BBC's Dan Isaacs in Lagos
"Today the country is in mourning"
Kyode Fayemi, Centre for Democracy
"President Obasanjo has been facing a crisis of confidence"
The BBC's Robert Parsons
"Many drowned as they fled in panic"
See also:

28 Jan 02 | Africa
Eyewitness: Canal deaths
28 Jan 02 | Africa
Eyewitness: Lagos blast
28 Jan 02 | Africa
In pictures: Lagos explosions
28 Jan 02 | Africa
Nigeria military under fire
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