Warri: At least eight people were killed in Nigeria when a petrol tanker veered off the road, caught fire and exploded as people tried to recover fuel, the emergency services said on Saturday.
The vehicle crashed in the Odukpani area of the southeastern state of Cross River, just north of the state capital, Calabar, at about 5:00 pm (1600 GMT) on Friday.
Local residents rushed to collect the leaking fuel before it caught fire, triggering the tanker blast.
The sector commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps in Cross River, Chidiebere Benjamin Nkwonta, said: “We met eight charred bodies on arrival at the scene
“Fifteen other people were severely burnt and in a life-threatening situation. They were taken to the hospital before we got there.
“I was also informed that out of the 15, some of them later died but I do not have the exact figures of the number that died.”
Nkwonta, however, dismissed local reports that up to 60 people were killed as “grossly over-exaggerated”.
Cross River state police spokeswoman Irene Ugbo said earlier she could not confirm the exact death toll but added: “The casualties are high.”
The blast could have been sparked by the clashing of steel containers used to scoop up the petrol, she added.
One local resident, Akpan Imon, said at least 18 people were killed.
“I counted 18 bodies including women and children burnt beyond recognition,” he said.
“I believe the casualty level could be more because people from other neighbouring communities had thronged the scene.”
Another local, Sunday Ibor, said “over 20 bodies” were taken to the local government secretariat.
Petrol tanker and pipeline blasts are common in Nigeria, where despite the country’s multi-billion-dollar oil and gas industry, most people live in poverty.
Fires and explosions often occur as people try to siphon fuel from pipelines and also following accidents involving fuel tankers on badly maintained roads.
In July 2012, at least 104 people were killed and some 50 others wounded as they tried to collect fuel from a petrol tanker after an accident in the southern state of Rivers.
Most were killed in the subsequent fire.
In June last year, at least nine people died in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, when a petrol tanker crashed, triggering a wildfire that gutted more than 50 vehicles.