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Search ends for victims of Nairobi pipeline explosion

By the CNN Wire Staff
A woman is comforted after seeing the body of her child on at the scene of a fire in a slum area in Nairobi.
A woman is comforted after seeing the body of her child on at the scene of a fire in a slum area in Nairobi.
  • NEW: Recovery work ends after Nairobi pipeline explosion
  • NEW: Red Cross says 82 bodies have been recovered
  • NEW: Police pegged the number at 76
  • An investigation into the incident's cause is under way

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- Work to recover bodies from the scene of a pipeline explosion in a densely populated Nairobi slum has ended, Kenya Red Cross said Tuesday.

Red Cross officials said 82 bodies had been recovered. Police pegged the number at 76. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.

The blast Monday morning flattened homes, reduced some bodies to dust and forced a massive evacuation of the Sinai slum amid fears that big pools of leaked fuel could ignite, police and Kenya Red Cross officials said.

The fire erupted around 10 a.m. local time, possibly as a group of people were siphoning fuel from the pipeline, which runs through the Lunga Lunga industrial area, officials said.

Coming to a precise accounting of the toll may be difficult because so many of the victims were found huddled together and severely burned, Carol Nduta, a Kenya Red Cross emergency medical instructor and dispatcher who traveled to the scene, said Monday. Some of the bodies were burned to dust, she said.

In addition to the dead, 118 people were hospitalized, police said.

Blast victims burned beyond recognition

The precise cause of the incident is under investigation.

Kenya Pipeline Co., the state-owned petroleum company that owns the pipeline, said in a statement Monday night that it had detected a spill from a bypass line in the Sinai community on Monday morning and immediately moved to shut it down.

State-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation quoted Prime Minister Raila Odinga as saying the incident occurred after a mechanism on the pipeline failed, allowing fuel to spill into a drainage ditch, where it then ignited.

Police, however, said the incident may have occurred after someone punctured the pipeline in an effort to steal fuel.

Fatalities from fuel leak accidents are common in Kenya.

Scores of residents scramble to scoop up fuel whenever there is a leak or a tanker is involved in an accident. In 2009, more than 100 people died in a fire after an oil tanker overturned in Molo, in western Kenya. In that incident, someone trying to take some of the fuel lit a cigarette, starting the fire.

A 2009 article in a Kenyan newspaper, The Daily Nation, discussed concerns of such a fire in the Sinai slum, where residents built shanties and even a church next to or even on top of the pipeline, according to the Daily Nation.

"I don't think there will ever be a fire, but you never know," the newspaper quoted one resident who it said had refused to move away from the pipeline despite eviction notices from the pipeline's owner.

CNN's Divina Mims, Andreena Narayan, Faith Karimi, Lillian Leposo, Helena DeMoura and Kim Chakanetsa contributed to this report.