Emergency workers in Nigeria fought fires and searched for corpses through the night in a neighbourhood that an airliner ploughed into, killing all 153 on board. Rescue officials said on Monday they fear many people may have perished on the ground too.

A Nigeria Red Cross report said that 48 bodies had been recovered so far, but more are being dug out from the rubble.

After pilots reported engine trouble, the Boeing MD-83 of Dana Air crashed into businesses and crowded apartment buildings near Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport on Sunday, the worst air disaster in Nigeria in nearly two decades.

“The fear is that since it happened in a residential area, there may have been many people killed,” said Yushau Shuaib, a spokesman for Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency.

The cause of the crash remained unclear on Monday. The pilots radioed to the Lagos control tower just before the crash, reporting engine trouble, a military official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to journalists.

Rescue workers searched for the aircraft’s black box recorders where flight data is stored, said Harold Demuren, the director-general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.

The aircraft appeared to have landed on its belly amid clear, sunny skies onto the dense neighbourhood that sits along the typical approach path taken by aircraft heading into the airport. The plane tore through roofs, sheared a mango tree and rammed into a woodworking studio, a printing press and at least two apartment buildings before stopping. The plane was heading to Lagos from Abuja, the capital, when it went down.

A white, noxious cloud rose from the crash site that burned onlookers’ eyes. Pieces of the plane were scattered around the muddy ground.

While local residents helped carry fire hoses to the crash site, the major challenges of life in Nigeria quickly became apparent as there wasn’t any water to put out the flames more than three hours later. Some young men carried plastic buckets of water to the fire. Fire trucks, from the very few that are stationed in Lagos State with a population of 17.5 million, couldn’t carry enough water. Officials commandeered water trucks from nearby construction sites, but narrow, crowded roads prevented them from reaching the crash site.

The dead included at least four Chinese citizens, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported late Sunday, citing Chinese diplomats in Nigeria. Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria could not be reached for comment by the AP. Two of the crash victims were Lebanese, according to Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency. The NNA identified them as Nadim Chediac, an architect who has a Lebanese father and Nigerian mother, and Roger Awwad, an investor.

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