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Nigeria tanker truck fire kills 95, injures 50

People look at charred bodies following fuel tanker

People look at charred bodies following fuel tanker explosion in Okogbe near Port Harcourt, Nigeria, (July 12, 2012) Credit: AP

LAGOS, Nigeria - A truck carrying fuel caught fire and exploded in Nigeria on Thursday after it veered off the road into a ditch, killing at least 95 people who had rushed to the scene to scoop fuel that had spilled, an official said.

At least 50 others were injured in the incident in the oil-rich southern Niger Delta region, said Rivers State spokeswoman Ibim Semenitari.

The fuel tanker was trying to avoid a head-on collision with buses when it swerved into a ditch at about 7 a.m. Thursday, said Rivers State police spokesman Ben Ugwuegbulam. It then overturned in the bushes, leaving its fuel to spill.

People then swarmed to the scene to collect fuel.

Yushau Shuaib, a spokesman for the West African country's emergency management agency, said the 95 people were killed in the explosion that ensued.

Despite decades as an oil producing region, the majority of those living in the Delta remain desperately poor and mostly without access to proper medical care, education or work. Anger over the situation on several occasions has driven young people to attack foreign oil firms based there and steal fuel from pipelines.

The truck accident took place near Okogbe town in the Niger Delta — a region of swamps, mangroves and creeks roughly the same size as South Carolina. The cause was not immediately known, although fatal crashes are common in Nigeria where decades-old roads are normally pitted with potholes and drivers frequently fail to observe traffic laws. Moreover, corruption often hinders or slows down road maintenance projects.

A photographer who was at the scene said that the accident occurred on a major expressway that was being expanded. Construction workers, however, hadn't yet reached the level where the accident occurred which remained a single carriage way, forcing for vehicles coming from opposite directions to negotiate passage.

"This tells a tragic story about the state of national infrastructure and the poverty of the people," said environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey.

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