ABUJA, Nigeria — At least 100 people may have died in an explosion at an illegal oil refinery in southeast Nigeria, a local oil official said Sunday as the search intensified for bodies at the site and for two people suspected of being involved in the blast.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, in a statement, called the explosion a “catastrophe and a national disaster.”
Officials from the state said that Friday’s explosion at Ohaji Egbema in Imo state was caused by a fire at two fuel storage locations where more than 100 people were employed.
The explosion killed dozens of workers, and many others tried to flee the fire by running into trees.
Those who died in the disaster are estimated to be within “the range of 100,” said Goodluck Opiah, the Imo commissioner for petroleum resources. “A lot of them ran into the bush with the burns and they died there.”
Buhari has directed the nation’s security forces “to intensify the clampdown” on such facilities being operated illegally in many parts of southern Nigeria, a spokesperson said in a statement.
Although Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of crude oil, for many years its oil production capacity has been limited by a chronic challenge of oil storage and the operation of illegal refineries.
Nigeria was robbed of $3 billion of crude oil between January 2021 & February 2022. Shady businessmen often set up refineries in remote locations to avoid regulators, such as that which exploded in Imo.
“There are no arrests yet but the two culprits are on the run with the police now looking for them,” said Declan Emelumba, the Imo State commissioner for information. Officials didn’t reveal the identities.
A mass burial is being planned for those killed in the explosion, many of who “were burnt beyond recognition,” said Emelumba. The area has been sprayed with fumigators by environmental officials.