Death toll from military dump explosions rises to 600

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Nigeria's president declared a national disaster on Tuesday after a series of explosions at an army weapons depot in Lagos left at least 600 dead, most of them women and children who drowned in a canal while trying to run away.

In a radio broadcast, President Olusegun Obasanjo said "over 600 bodies had been recovered," including many from the Oke Afa canal in the Isolo neighborhood of this city of 12 million. He said the dead were mostly women, young people and children.

"What happened in Lagos was a monumental tragedy," Obasanjo said, calling the deaths a "national disaster."

Lagos Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu blamed the deaths on military negligence, radio stations said.

The Vanguard newspaper of Lagos estimated that more than 2,000 people were killed. State television cited unnamed witnesses as saying between 750 and 1,000 bodies had been recovered in various parts of the city. The reports could not be independently confirmed.

Army spokesman Col. Felix Chukwumah said the explosions began when a fire spread to the depot, which is surrounded by crowded slums and working-class neighborhoods. The blasts propelled shrapnel and shock waves for miles, shattering windows six miles away.

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