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NIGERIA: Over 600 dead

ABIDJAN, 29 Jan 2002 (IRIN) - More than 600 people have been confirmed dead following the explosions which rocked Nigeria’s biggest city, Lagos, after an ammunitions dump caught fire, government officials said. Thousands are believed missing, according to the Nigerian Red Cross.

"Over 600 bodies have been recovered," Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu told journalists late Monday. "The Lagos mortuaries are full. We did not anticipate that this many lives would have been lost."

The Red Cross has set up centres to register displaced people and help families find missing relatives. "We have so far registered 2,670 displaced people, and more than half of this number are children," Red Cross spokesman Patrick Bawa told IRIN on Tuesday. "As at yesterday we evacuated 25 wounded people to hospital."

The fire at the munitions depot in Ikeja Military Cantonment, Lagos' biggest military facility, started on Sunday evening. The explosions sent artillery and mortar shells flying over various parts of the city. Lagos residents fled in panic and in one area near the site of the disaster, hundreds of people drowned in a canal as they tried to wade to safety.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was spending the weekend on his farm on the outskirts of Lagos when the disaster struck, visited the military barracks on Monday to commiserate with victims. In a broadcast to the nation late Monday night, he declared Tuesday a day of mourning and announced the establishment of a special relief fund to help those affected by the disaster.

Obasanjo said reception and identification centres were being set up acrossthe city to help residents trace thousands of missing relatives.

The death toll from the disaster is expected to rise further when bodies are recovered from buildings damaged by the blasts, both inside and outside the barracks. Late on Monday, many buildings inside the military facility, which housed over 3,000 soldiers, officers and their families, were still smouldering and intermittent explosions were still going off at the munitions depot. An estimated 15,000 people living there have been displaced.

Many parts of the city of some 12 million people are littered with unexploded bombs and missiles. Several unexploded mortar shells were found on Monday on the premises of a local government council and a secondary school located near the barracks. Newspaper reports said a 10-year-old boy was killed in a Lagos suburb when he kicked an object and it exploded.

Lagos State police chief Mike Okiro has warned residents against picking up strange objects. "Anyone who sees a strange object
should avoid having any contact with it," he said. "He should immediately alert the police or military authorities."


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