LAGOS, Nigeria — A fuel truck veered off the road into a ditch, caught fire, and exploded in Nigeria’s oil-rich delta Thursday, killing at least 95 people who had rushed to the scene to scoop fuel that had spilled, an official said.
It was a tragic reminder of how little of the nation’s oil wealth has trickled down to the poor.
At least 50 other people were injured in the fire in the southern Niger Delta region, said Rivers State spokeswoman Ibim Semenitari.
Witnesses said some charred corpses were lying in the area hours after the explosion, including bodies the size of children. ‘‘What did these small ones know about coming to scoop fuel?’’ asked Alagoa Morris, coordinator at advocacy group Oil Watch Nigeria.
He said women wailed at the scene of the explosion, desperately looking for their relatives. The location of some of the bodies suggested that they were trying to run away when fire consumed them, Morris added.
The fuel truck was trying to avoid a head-on collision with buses when it swerved into the ditch, said Ben Ugwuegbulam, a Rivers State police spokesman. It then overturned, spilling its fuel. People swarmed to the scene to collect some of it.
Yushau Shuaib, a spokesman for the West African country’s emergency management agency, said the 95 people were killed in the explosion that ensued. It was not immediately clear what had caused the fire that turned the truck to ashes.
The Niger Delta has been an oil-producing region for decades, yet the majority of those living there remain desperately poor and mostly without access to proper medical care, education, or work. Anger over the situation has prompted young people to attack foreign oil firms based there and steal fuel from pipelines.
The crude that flows from the Niger Delta is the lifeblood of Nigeria’s economy. The OPEC member now pumps out about 2.4 million barrels of oil a day, making it Africa’s biggest producer. Production dropped drastically during militant attacks that targeted pipelines. A 2009 government-sponsored amnesty program saw many fighters lay down their arms and the violence largely stop.
The truck accident took place near Okogbe town about 40 miles from Port Harcourt city, Nigeria’s oil capital in the delta.