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'Tens of people' killed in Nigerian gas plant blast

Florian Plaucheur, AFP | A picture taken on September 29, 2015 shows a gas pipeline at the Afam VI power plant in Port Harcourt. Nigeria is Africa's largest producer, accounting for roughly two million barrels of crude daily.

A huge explosion hit an industrial gas plant in southeastern Nigeria on Christmas Eve, razing nearby buildings. The Nigerian presidency said Friday "tens of people" had died in the blast, while a local reporter spoke of more than one hundred dead.

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The blast at the Inter Corp Oil Limited gas plant, a subsidiary of Nigerian conglomerate Chicason Group, started at 1pm on Thursday, swallowing the plant in a fire that gutted surrounding buildings and vehicles in Nnewi city.

Reports of fatalities varied widely from relatively low numbers to more than one hundred.

The office of President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement that "tens of people" had died in the blast.

"My heart and prayers go out to these grieving families at this difficult and painful moment," Buhari said.

An Associated Press (AP) reporter at the scene earlier said he had counted the charred remains of more than 100 bodies.

A witness, Emeka Peters, said the fire broke out when a tanker truck that had finished discharging fresh gas left without waiting to observe the prescribed cooling time.

"The fire exploded like a bomb, and the whole gas station went up in thick, black smoke amidst an explosion from cooking gas cylinders," Peters told AP.

"Many people were killed, and most of them were those that had been in the station queuing all day to get their cylinders refilled."

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer, deriving the bulk of its money through the commodity.

Accidents happen frequently in the country, where pipelines are often damaged by people stealing crude oil.

The country loses an estimated 300,000 barrels a day to gangs that syphon crude from pipelines in the oil-rich southern states, according to the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)
 

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