The first explosion took place outside a packed footwear shop around 9:50 IST yesterday, followed by a second explosion just minutes later, said Badamasi Amin, a local trader who counted at least three bodies.

He said the area at the time was crowded with customers doing some last-minute shopping on the eve of the Eid festival marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

"I was about 70 metres (yards) from the scene" when the first blast hit, Amin told. "I and many other people rushed to assist the victims. While we were trying to attend to the wounded, another blast happened outside a china shop just opposite the footwear shop," he said, adding that he himself was 'drenched in blood' from moving dead bodies.

Ali Nasiru, another trader, said he saw, "People lying lifeless on the ground". "Traders and shoppers helped in evacuating the victims to the hospital," he said.

"In all, we have 49 dead and 71 injured," a top rescue official said, asking not to be named. He warned that the toll could climb further as some of the wounded 'are in a critical condition'.

"The victims include many women and children," he said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts but a market, bus station and stadium in the city of Gombe, the capital of Gombe state, have all in recent months been targeted by bomb and suicide attacks.

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