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At Least 100 People Feared Dead In Fire At Nigeria Gas Plant

More than 100 people are feared dead following a fire Thursday at a crowded industrial plant in southeast Nigeria.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton tells our Newscast unit that the fire started as crowds were lined up to refill cooking gas cylinders on Christmas Eve in this predominately Christian area:

"Witnesses say customers had gone to the butane gas depot in the city of Nnewi in Nigeria's Anambra state to fill up gas bottles on Christmas Eve. It's not immediately clear what caused the massive fire that engulfed the factory producing gas for cooking and heating. Some speak of a lit cigarette or a firecracker causing the blaze. Other witnesses say a tanker truck that had completed offloading fresh gas at the Chikason plant left without waiting to observe the prescribed cooling time. A bystander described a fire exploding like a bomb. It reportedly took Nigerian firefighters hours to put out the blaze, by which time onlookers say the area was littered with charred corpses."

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari said "tens" of people were killed, but he did not give an exact figure, Reuters reports. A local journalist at the scene, David Onwuchekwa, told Reuters that he saw about 100 bodies. "Most of the dead were customers at the plant or people who lived nearby," he says.

"The fire burned beyond recognition all the workers who were inside that depot at that time and also all the customers inside that depot," witness Chukwuemerie Uduchukwu told the BBC.

"Witnesses described a huge fire with acrid black smoke hanging over the scene of the disaster," the BBC reports. They say it took more than five hours to put out the fire.

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

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