A huge explosion caused by a tanker on Thursday at a butane gas depot in south-eastern Nigeria left at least 100 people dead with many also injured, Nigeria’s president said.
The fire raged for more than five hours before finally being extinguished.
Witnesses said the bodies of workers and customers at the depot in Nnewi, in Anambra State, had been burned beyond recognition.
Many customers had gone to the plant to fill up their gas bottles so they could cook meals on Christmas Day.
The plant’s manager Peter Nwosu said he was unable to confirm the death toll at this stage.
“My heart and prayers go out to these grieving families at this difficult and painful moment,” President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement.
The dead and injured were taken to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital in Nnewi, which has a predominantly Christian community.
Staff inside the plant are reported to have been trapped.
“The fire burned beyond recognition all the workers who were inside that depot at that time and also all the customers inside that depot,” Chukwuemerie Uduchukwu, who went to the scene, said.
The ferocity of the blast also damaged houses in the surrounding area.
Police spokesman Ali Okechukwu said there had been a “huge inferno”.
A witness told the Vanguard newspaper that the blast was triggered when a truck began discharging cooking gas without waiting for the mandatory cooling time.
Passers-by were also caught up in the explosion, the newspaper reported.
A witness, Emeka Peters, said the fire broke out at about 11am when a lorry that had finished discharging fresh gas at the Chikason Group Gas plant left without waiting to observe the prescribed cooling time.
“The fire exploded like a bomb and the whole gas station went up in thick, black smoke amidst an explosion from cooking gas cylinders,” Peters said. “Many people were killed and most of them were those that had been in the station queuing all day to get their cylinders refilled.”
Mr Peters, 36, said the fire raged for hours. He said most of the bodies and some badly injured victims were evacuated to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University teaching hospital in Nnewi.
“I doubt if many family members of the dead victims would be able to identify the remains of their loved ones,” he added.