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Nigerian president 'shaken and shocked' by gas tank explosion

Nigeria's president has responded to a fatal gas tank explosion - with the number of deaths still unclear. The Christmas Eve blast in the southern town of Nnewi may have been exacerbated by firefighters' lack of water.

Death toll estimates from a Christmas Eve gas explosion in southern Nigeria are fluctuating wildly, with some reports claiming more than 100 dead, while other accounts suggest less than 10 people died.

The

death toll may take weeks to sort out

, as will the actual cause of the blast, but it seems apparent that it was a massive explosion, which may have been exacerbated by fire fighters' shortage of water.

James Eze, a spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said the blast scorched an area the size of three football fields, and caused damage farther afield.

"About 300 meters from the gas line all the plants there were burnt, houses from 400 meters away were affected, heavy machines too," he said, while visiting the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, where victims of the blast were being treated.

Local journalist David Onwuchekwa said, "I saw around 100 charred corpses."

Map of Nigeria illustrates the site of the Explosion in southern Nigeria

The blast occurred in the southern town of Nnewi

President Muhammadu Buhari, who put the death toll in the "tens," issued a statement saying he was "greatly shaken and shocked by such large scale loss of human lives in a single industrial accident."

But some officials, on both a national and a local level dismissed such high death counts.

A local police spokesman, Ali Okechukwu, called talk of dozens dead "alarming and misleading."

"After the incident, six persons were confirmed dead outside the perimeter fencing of the company," he said, adding that two others were found dead in a nearby building.

Bones to ashes

NEMA spokesman Eze put the death toll at four, barring any missing people who may have been burnt without any trace.

"The fire [was] so strong as to burn the bones into ashes," he said, "but nobody has come forward with a missing person."

The cahrred remains of a car and its surroundings after a deadly gas Explosion in the Nigerian town of Nnewi

Charred remains from the deadly explosion in Nnewi

Another source, Peter Kathy, the vice chairman of the Nigerian Red Cross in the state of Anambra, said many were injured.

"Medics are still battling to save the lives of those who suffered various injures in the blast," he said.

The cause of the explosion also remains unclear.

By one account, a truck was off-loading butane cooking gas for customers stocking up on fuel for Christmas festivities. Others said it was set off when a leaking consignment of gas was being moved to the company dump.

Nnewi resident Ilochonwu Prince said, "the fire burnt them to ashes. They are just gone like that."

He said

no one knew what set off the explosion

because "none of them that were there survived, now nobody has a good story of what actually happened."

bik/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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