This Day In History: January 27

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Explosions at a military depot in Lagos, Nigeria, trigger a stampede of fleeing people, during which more than 1,000 people are killed.

The Ikeja armory was located just north of the city center of Lagos and housed a large barracks and munitions depot. On January 27, a Sunday afternoon, a street market was set up at Ikeja when fire broke out. It spread to a munitions area and, at about 6 p.m., caused a huge explosion.

The blast immediately leveled an area of several square blocks and killed approximately 300 people, mostly soldiers and their families. The explosion was heard and felt 30 miles away and the tremors collapsed homes and broke windows as many as 10 miles away. Making matters worse, the explosion sent munitions debris raining down over a wide swath of the north side of Lagos. This caused fires to break out all over the city.

The explosions and fires caused a general panic in part of the city. Lagos has a large canal, the Oke-Afa, running north to south through the city. On the other side of the canal is a banana plantation. Apparently, much of the panicking crowd thought they could seek refuge in the banana fields, but failed to remember the location of the canal in the dark. As thousands of people pushed toward the fields, at least 600 people drowned in the canal.

Stampedes in other parts of the city killed hundreds more, most of them children separated from their parents. Approximately 5,000 people were injured in total, overwhelming the city’s hospitals. Explosions continued throughout the night and into the following afternoon. Due to a lack of firefighters in Lagos, the blazes were not contained until more than 24 hours later. At least 12,000 people were left homeless by the disaster.

Afterward, the commander of Ikeja issued a statement, “On behalf of the military, we are sorry … efforts were being made in the recent past to try to improve the storage facility, but this accident happened before the high authorities could do what was needed.” In fact, it turned out that city officials had told the military to modernize the facility the year before, following a small explosion, but that virtually nothing had been done.