SAO PAULO, Brazil -- A gasoline pipeline burst today, spewing thousands of gallons of fuel that ignited and engulfed an illegal shanty town in an inferno that killed at least 57 people and injured 33 others, officials said.
Officials said the death toll might rise.
Most of the dead found in the ashes of Sao Jose, a slum of rickety wooden shacks built on swampland owned by the state oil monopoly, were children or elderly people who were unable to escape the flames, officials said.
The slum, where some 1,500 people lived, is next to a superhighway in the industrial city of Cubatao, 30 miles from Sao Paulo.
'We have dug out 55 bodies so far and there may be more,' said Carlos Affonso, coroner of Cubatao.
He said two other people died in a hospital. Another 33 victims were hospitalized, most in serious condition.
Authorities will find it 'almost impossible ... to identify most of the victims. The bodies are blackened and disfigured beyond recognition,' he said.
A spokesman for Petrobras, Brazil's state oil monopoly, said a pipeline at the Cubatao oil refinery burst about midnight -- probably from a pressure buildup -- spewing about 175,000 gallons of gasoline.
He said the fuel spread from the refinery over a wide area of swampland surrounding the shanty town.
'When the fire started -- we don't know how -- the swamp must have gone up in flames like a barrel of gunpowder,' he said.
The flames engulfed the wooden shacks of the slum, which Petrobras President Shigeaki Ueki said the company had tried to prevent from being built illegally on its land.
'We have made a great effort to keep people from building shacks near our pipelines. But despite our effort they continue to do so,' he said.
Ueki said Petrobras would try to provide financial compensation to the families of the victims.
'We will find some method for indemnifying the families of victims. We will spare no expense,' he said.