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Page last updated at 20:18 GMT, Thursday, 15 May 2008 21:18 UK

Chaos and despair at Lagos fire

Umar Elleman, from the BBC's Hausa service, arrived at the scene of the Ijegun pipeline explosion in Lagos, Nigeria, and found a scene of chaos and despair as thousands of people fled their homes.

Smoke engulfs houses
The heat was like opening an oven door

A friend called me to say that a fire had broken out in Lagos and we rushed quickly down to the place.

From 10km away you could see the smoke rising, thick and black.

We arrived a few kilometres away from the fire and people were running helter-skelter.

It was obvious that the inferno was growing.

There was a lot of damage - we could see cars that were on fire and houses that were engulfed by the flames.

Everyone was clearing out their properties, desperately trying to get out before the fire spread to their homes.

They were talking about people who were missing, and people they knew who had died.

Some people were running away with no shoes on.

I have never seen a fire like that before.

'Mountain of fire'

From a kilometre away you could feel the heat like opening an oven door, and there was no sign of it abating.

Standing in front of it was like being at the bottom of a mountain of fire and smoke.

map

I could not see any dead. They must have still been inside the houses that were burning.

Two schools near the fire had been abandoned. Books were scattered everywhere and papers were being blown around.

One of the victims I spoke to said she heard the blast, like a whooshing sound.

She said she came out from where she was working on her sewing machine, and she saw people burnt on the street.

Before she knew it, the terrible heat had burned her back.

While we were talking, firemen told us to clear out of the area because the fire was spreading.

We had to run, and I never got her name.

All I could smell was the thick and choking smoke.

An emergency official said it might take two days to get the fire under control.


SEE ALSO
Nigeria mourns pipeline victims
27 Dec 06 |  Africa
'Burnt to ash' in Nigeria blast
12 May 06 |  Africa
Country profile: Nigeria
30 Apr 08 |  Country profiles

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