200 People Dead In Oil Pipeline Explosion

Between 150 and 200 people were killed on Friday when an oil pipeline exploded in Nigeria, officials said, incinerating vandals as they tried to siphon fuel.

"You can see the corpses. Some are burned to ash. Others are remnants ... We estimate 150 to 200 people died," the police commissioner told Reuters news agency.

"It seems these people were literally incinerated, almost instantly," CNN's Jeff Koinange reported from Lagos.

Rescue workers dug a ditch near the exploded pipeline, the commissioner told The Associated Press, saying the bodies would be "given a mass burial."

A Reuters reporter said sand had been cleared from around the buried pipeline and that it bore marks of drilling.

"People insist on breaking into these installations in order to steal petrol in the pipes and it's difficult to man every pipeline in the country," Nigerian government spokesman Femi Fani-Kayode said.

"We don't have the people or resources, and I don't think anyone in the world does."

The fire from the blast has been extinguished, and Nigerian police officers have secured the scene. Nigerian officials say the pipe exploded on Snake Island.

"A number of villages were involved and came to assist and help our security agents," Fani-Kayode said.

Despite its oil riches, Nigeria's population remains impoverished and people often tap into pipelines crossing their lands, seeking fuel for cooking or resale on the black market.

Koinange reported that the fuel thefts can easily lead to tragedy because safety is not a concern, giving this example.

"This is a very common occurrence here in Nigeria ... vandals going in trying to steal petroleum products and a motorcycle backs up and a spot just hits the pipeline and explodes," Koinange said.

"This is caused by hunger and greed. If you've got no job and you're hungry you take advantage of anything to feed your family. Anyone who takes this kind of risk is desperate," Olanrewaju Saka-Shenayon, a Lagos State government official, told Reuters.

In September 2004, an oil pipeline exploded near Lagos as thieves tried to siphon oil from it, with up to 50 people perishing in the flames. A 1998 pipeline blast killed more than 1,000 in southern Nigeria.