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Tuesday, October 20, 1998 Published at 06:08 GMT 07:08 UK

World: Africa

Pipeline fire toll rises

Fuel remaining in the pipeline kept the blaze alight

At least 700 people have now died as a result of Sunday's petrol pipeline fire, Nigerian officials say.

Most died instantly, when the blaze broke out near the south-eastern town of Warri, but many others have since died from their burns. Hundreds more remain in hospital.

The many dead who were burned beyond recognition have been buried in a mass grave.

Other victims who could be identified have been taken by their families to surrounding villages for burial.

Many of those killed were trying to scoop up fuel from a broken pipeline, which had been spewing petrol for three days, when the explosion occurred.

Fuel is a scarce commodity for ordinary Nigerians, as most of the country's oil is exported, leading to severe shortages at home.

No compensation for families

[ image: Hospitals have been unable to treat all the injured]
Hospitals have been unable to treat all the injured
The Nigerian military leader, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, has said no compensation will be paid to relatives of the victims.

Speaking during a visit to the area on Monday, he said the damage to the pipeline had been an act of sabotage.

But he promised the government would pay for the survivors' medical bills.

Hilary Andersson in Warri: "The hospitals are very poorly equipped"
"I see a human tragedy and we will do the best we can to alleviate it ... We are trying to see what can be done," he said.

Many hospitals are reported to be so under-resourced that they are having to turn away the injured.

Medical staff sent by the Red Cross, Unicef and the World Health organisation are helping treat the victims, who are at risk from secondary infection.

'Oil companies to blame'

The environmental group Friends of the Earth has blamed oil companies operating in Nigeria for the disaster.

"This tragedy underlines how the oil companies and Nigeria's corrupt government have put screwing as much money as possible out of the oil industry before public safety," said Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper.

"The fact that people are scrabbling in the streets to collect fuel from a burst pipeline shows how Nigeria's awesome oil riches are still being controlled by a few, rather than benefiting the many," he added.

Robert Efenakpo, eyewitness: "Burned beyond recognition"
The blaze was reported to be continuing on Wednesday, although pipeline officials said it was coming under control.

The pipeline was switched off 8km down the line in either direction, leaving a considerable amount of fuel to be burnt off.

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