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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK
Investigation into Lagos fire
A worker covers the body of a colleague
Some 200 workers were present when the blaze began
Police in Nigeria say they are investigating reports that the owners of a Lagos factory destroyed by fire had locked workers in, and that they opened fire on crowds who rushed the complex during the blaze.

At least 37 workers died in the blaze at a sandal factory, and the BBC correspondent in Lagos says there has been a public outcry.


I had to go back to look for another escape route

Factory worker Said Adesina
The factory manager, Mun Lai, denied any policy of locking doors on the workers.

He admitted security guards had fired guns, but said they had shot in the air to scare away people breaking into the factory's residential area.

The Nigerian police are also investigating allegations that some people were wounded by the shooting.

'Hellish time'

Badly burned workers told an AFP news agency reporter that they had found doors bolted when they tried to escape.

A firefighter trying to contain the smouldering section of the factory
Angry rioters prevented firefighters from containing fire
"Smoke filled everywhere and it was difficult to see any escape route," said 22-year-old Said Adesina, one of seven workers with burns in a hospital near the factory.

"I had to descend the spiral staircase to the ground floor. When I got down, the three entrance doors were locked and I had to go back to look for another escape route," he said.

He told AFP that only three out of the 40 workers in his section of the plant had survived.

Locked in

Some 200 workers were thought to be on duty at the time of the fire.

The Red Cross have recovered 37 bodies so far.

Police said rioters hampered rescue efforts and tried to loot and vandalise the plant.

The compound housed six factories, the largest of which belonged to West African Rubber Products Company.

All the factories are part of the same conglomerate based in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Most of the expatriate staff were said to be Chinese, Malaysian and Filipino.


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18 Sep 02 | Africa
28 Jan 02 | Africa
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