By CHINEDU ASADU, Associated Press
ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — More than 50 people were killed and scores injured when an explosion rocked an illegal oil refinery in southeastern Nigeria, state officials and police said Saturday.
The death toll could be over 100, according to a report by the Lagos-based Punch newspaper. The fire reportedly spread to neighboring properties.
The fire started on Friday evening and quickly spread to two fuel storage areas of the illegal crude oil refinery, causing the complex to be ‘engulfed in a rapidly spreading fire’ in the area said Declan Emelumba, the Imo state information commissioner.
The immediate cause of the explosion and the extent of the deaths, injuries and damage are under investigation, Emelumba said.
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Several videos posted on social media showed a gruesome scene, with people’s charred remains reduced to skeletons and ashes. The Associated Press has not been able to independently verify them.
“A lot of people died. The people who died are all illegal operators,” said Michael Abattam, spokesman for the Imo State Police Command.
The Imo state government was looking for the owner of the refinery where the explosion occurred and declared him wanted, an official said.
Illegal refineries are common in Nigeria, where shady commercial operators often avoid regulations and taxes by locating refineries in remote areas, out of sight of authorities.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest crude oil producer, but it has very few official refineries and as a result most gasoline and other fuels are imported, creating an opening for illegal refinery operators.
The practice is so widespread that it affects crude oil production in the oil-rich region of the Niger Delta.
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