Jesse Pipeline Explosion

On October 18, 1998 a pipeline explosion occurred in the community of Jesse, 290 kilometres southeast of Lagos, Nigeria.

The cause of the blast has been debated. The Nigerian government stated the explosion took place after scavengers intentionally ruptured the pipeline with their tools and ignited the blaze; however, others have stated the pipeline ruptured due to a lack of maintenance and neglect with a cigarette igniting the fire. With a total of 1,082 deaths attributed to the blast, the 1998 Jesse explosion has the distinction of being the most deadly pipeline explosion to have occurred in Nigeria.

On this day in 1998, a pipeline explosion in Jesse, Nigeria, kills 700 people. The resulting fire burned for nearly a week.

Nigeria is an oil-rich country on the west coast of Africa. The oil fields are controlled by several multi-national corporations in cooperation with the Nigerian government. Very little of the proceeds from oil exports reaches the average citizen of the country and millions of people live in abject poverty. In fact, gas pipelines run right through impoverished villages.

One such pipeline ran through the town of Jesse, where it became commonplace for residents to steal oil from the pipeline to supplement their meager incomes. This was known as "bunkering" and was taking place on October 18, when a helicopter was dispatched to disperse the people assembled at the pipeline. Just after the helicopter arrived, a massive fireball shot up 100 feet into the sky. The exact cause of the explosion remains unknown.

Gasoline gushing from a ruptured pipeline exploded Friday as villagers scavenged for fuel, setting off an inferno that killed up to 200 and left charred bodies scattered around the site in this oil-rich country of mostly poor people.

Grim-faced rescue workers swung corpses into a mass grave as dozens of other scorched bodies awaited collection. It appeared some victims tried to flee the unfolding disaster only to be overtaken by flames spreading across the fuel slick.

The stark outlines of white skeletons lay against a beach charred black by fire. Other bodies floated alongside dozens of plastic jerrycans in the nearby waters of the coastal mangrove swamp. The jerrycans, which had contained pilfered gas, were twisted by the heat of the explosion.