LAGOS, Nigeria — An overturned oil tanker exploded in Nigeria, killing many of the dozens of people who were scooping up its leaking fuel, the police and witnesses said on Saturday.
Hundreds of people have died in similar accidents in recent years in Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, as impoverished people risk their lives to collect fuel leaking from pipelines or trucks.
“We have recovered 12 corpses and taken 22 persons with serious burns to hospital,” a police spokeswoman, Irene Ugbo, told The Associated Press. She said the blast occurred Friday evening in Odukpani in the southeastern Cross River State.
Some residents put the death toll closer to 60.
“The police only recovered a few corpses, many of the other dead were burned to ashes,” Richard Johnson, a witness, told The A.P.
He said about 60 people had been inside a pit scooping fuel when the tanker exploded. “It is not likely that anyone inside the pit survived as there was a lot of fuel in the pit,” Johnson said.
He suggested the blast was caused by an electrical generator that had been brought to the scene to help pump out the fuel for people’s containers.
It was not immediately clear what had caused the truck to overturn.
About a year ago, more than 30 residents in the same area were burned to death while scooping fuel from an oil tanker that had been involved in an accident.
Deadly fuel fires have been a chronic affliction in Nigeria, Africa’s leading oil exporter. In 2008, more than 100 people were reported killed when a construction vehicle struck an oil pipeline on the outskirts of Lagos.
In 2007, at least 45 people were killed in Lagos when fuel they were sip honing from a buried pipeline caught fire. In 2006, another pipeline ruptured by thieves caught fire, killing about 260.
In 2015, a tanker truck exploded outside an industrial plant in the city of Nnewi, in Anambra State, in rural southeastern Nigeria, killing dozens of people who had lined up for gas to cook their Christmas meals.
Nigeria’s worst such accident occurred in 1998, when more than 1,000 people died as a leaking oil pipeline from which they were scooping fuel exploded in the town of Jesse.