A gas explosion has killed an estimated 100 people in southern Nigeria

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A truck off-loading butane gas at an industrial site in the southeastern Nigerian town of Nnewi exploded and killed an estimated 100 victims, including people nearby who had been queuing for cooking gas in time for Christmas Day celebrations, local media and the Associated Press report. The office of the president confirmed the incident.

“The fire exploded like a bomb and the whole gas station went up in thick, black smoke amidst an explosion from cooking gas cylinders,” one witness told AP. “Many people were killed and most of them were those that had been in the station queuing all day to get their cylinders refilled.”

The incident happened at about 11am local time on Thursday (Dec. 24). While the exact cause of the accident is still unclear, some witnesses told local media that the explosion may have happened because the truck didn’t wait to cool down before discharging the gas.

The fire from the explosion burned for hours and prevented rescue workers from entering the plant where some people “in their hundreds” had been trapped, local reports say. Also damaged were nearby homes and 50 cars near the plant.

“We heard…the explosion that rocked the entire vicinity,” one resident said. “I ran for my life and escaped with minor injury but my mother was not lucky. She was not as fast as myself, when the fire came down a little bit, the next thing I saw was her dead body.”

“Many of [the victims] were burned beyond recognition, and I doubt if many family members of the dead victims would be able to identify the remains of their loved ones,” another witness said.