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Originally published Friday, May 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Nigerian pipeline fire kills as many as 100

More than 100 people were feared dead Thursday after a construction vehicle struck an oil pipeline on the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria's...

LAGOS, Nigeria — More than 100 people were feared dead Thursday after a construction vehicle struck an oil pipeline on the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria's biggest city, setting off an oil-fed inferno that spread to surrounding homes and a school.

"The fire was very high," said Johnson Fabunmi, a doctor who lives in the area. "Everyone was running for their life."

There were vastly differing accounts of the toll. Nigerian Red Cross officials said at least 100 people died, but a representative of the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency said only 10 died, including a 2-year-old, and that 36 were injured.

Pipeline fires are common in Nigeria. More than 400 people died in two similar pipeline explosions in Lagos in 2006 and at least 40 died in December.

Authorities frequently blame the disasters on criminal gangs who break into the pipelines to siphon fuel for sale, attracting crowds of people who come in their wake to scavenge for fuel.

There also have been many rebel attacks on oil pipelines in Nigeria, Africa's leading exporter of crude oil, the eighth largest in the world, and a key U.S. supplier. Attacks on oil pipelines are common, particularly in the troubled, oil-rich southeastern Delta region.

But the Lagos police said Thursday's fire appeared to be an accident.

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