More than 50 people were killed in an explosion at an illegal oil refinery in Nigeria

More than 50 people were killed and many injured in an explosion that rocked an illegal oil refinery in southeastern Nigeria, Nigerian police and officials said.

The death toll may be more than 100, according to a report in Lagos-based newspaper Punch. It was reported that the fire spread to nearby properties.

Declan Imilumba, Imo State Information Commissioner, said the fire broke out on Friday night and quickly spread to two fuel storage areas at the illegal crude oil refinery, causing a “rapidly spreading fire” inside the complex.

Imilumba said the immediate cause of the explosion and the extent of the deaths, injuries and damages were being investigated.

Multiple videos posted on social media showed a horrific scene, where the charred remains of people were reduced to skeletons and ashes. The Associated Press could not independently verify it.

Lots of people died. “The people who died were all illegal operators,” said Michael Apatam, a spokesperson for the Imo State Police Command.

An official said the Imo State government was searching for the owner of the refinery where the explosion occurred and declared him wanted.

Illegal refineries are common in Nigeria, where shady commercial operators often avoid regulations and taxes by setting up refineries in remote areas, out of the sights of the authorities.

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Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of crude oil, but it has very few formal refineries, and as a result most of its gasoline and other fuels are imported, creating an opportunity for illegal refinery operators.

This practice is so widespread that it affects the production of crude oil in the oil-rich Niger Delta region.

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