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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Anger Rises With Death Toll in Nigeria

LAGOS, Nigeria -- The death toll from bomb explosions at an armory in the Nigerian city of Lagos climbed above 600 Tuesday, with many of the victims women and children, officials said.

As the toll rose, so did public anger, with callers to radio talk shows accusing the government of having ignored calls to move the armory away from a crowded residential area.

National newspapers gave a much higher number of deaths but there was no official confirmation of their figures.

Authorities said they would decide soon whether to hold a mass burial for the victims after they had had more time to identify them.

President Olusegun Obasanjo -- who has demanded an explanation from the army -- ordered that Tuesday be observed as a national day of mourning after the worst tragedy to hit Nigeria's biggest city for a decade. Flags flew at half mast at government offices across the country.

Rescuers on Monday retrieved hundreds of bodies of people who drowned in two canals as they fled for their lives when the armory in the Ikeja district blew up.

The muddy banks of the canals are not always easy to spot and are often hidden by scrub and bushes. Many people are thought to have been trampled to death after falling in.

"As of last night, a total of 600 bodies were retrieved from the canals," said Lagos State Commissioner for Information Dele Alake.

More than a dozen other deaths were reported by witnesses elsewhere in the city of over 10 million people.

Alake said navy divers would join the search for more bodies in the canals and marshland around them.

The narrow and generally shallow canals are used mainly to drain industrial sludge and some rescuers suggested many of the victims could have been suffocated by toxic waste.

The death toll would have been even higher if the accident had happened on a working day in the chaotic capital.

Three schools inside the military district, with a total of more than 3,000 students, were completely destroyed.

Obasanjo visited the barracks Monday and pledged urgent relief help for thousands of displaced soldiers and their families.

He also said the military would set up an inquiry to determine whether anyone was to blame for the disaster and to prevent a repeat tragedy at other barracks.

The blasts and the unfolding tragedy have added to the problems of Obasanjo's government, which is struggling with Nigeria's worst cycle of political and religious violence for more than three decades.