One of the witnesses of the overturned tanker that eventually exploded yesterday killing scores of people along the East-West Road in Rivers State, Mr. Sunday Erufe, has attributed his survival to luck.
According to him, he escaped death by a whisker when the tanker exploded because he was searching for a jerry can with which to scoop his own fuel.
Speaking on how he escaped death, Erufe, said: “There were more than 100. I was rushing to the place to fetch my own fuel when the thing exploded. It is not just our community; other nearby communities such as Ayakama and Obolobo were involved. They all came to fetch fuel.”
About 100 people including women and children reportedly perished yesterday while scooping fuel from an overturned tanker that exploded along the East-West Road in Rivers State.
The sector commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in the state, Mr. Kayode Olagunju, confirmed that over 93 people died on the spot while two died later in the hospital; 18 others were seriously injured.
At the scene of the explosion in Okogbe community, numerous victims with various degrees of burns ran for help as others were conveyed on the back of their relatives and motorcycles to the nearest hospital.
LEADERSHIP gathered that the fuel tanker was involved in a head-on collision with a Toyota Camry car at about 6am while trying to navigate the narrow East-West road and tumbled into a ditch. The victims of the fire had converged on the tanker, taking advantage of the various leakage points to scoop fuel, when another bus en-route Port Harcourt rammed into the accident scene and ignited the tanker.
The incident caused traffic gridlock along the busy road that leads to Port Harcourt in Rivers State and confusion in the Okogbe community where elderly men, women and youths were seen wailing as they rushed to the scene of the incident to rescue victims.
Another survivor, Queen Okpara, said many women raced to scoop the fuel with their children strapped to their back and they perished in the incident.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP at the scene of the explosion, the assistant corps commander of Ahoada-West local government unit of the FRSC, Mr. Adedoyin Adeyinka, expressed concern over the careless attitude of Nigerians who scoop petroleum products and puncture oil pipelines. “Nigerians should know that there is nothing free in life and should never come close to the scene of accidents such as this,” he said.
The councilor representing Ward 5 in Ahoada-West local government council of Rivers State, Hon. Thompson Otonbo, and a civil servant, Mr. Joseph Igberi, attributed the accident to the poor state of the narrow East-West road and urged the federal government to ensure completion of the dualisation of the road.
LEADERSHIP also gathered that 87 bodies were given mass burial on the grounds that most of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition. It was further learnt that the remains of four victims identified by the families were released to them for burial.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan has directed immediate provision of relief materials to the survivors of the fuel tanker explosion at Okogbe in Rivers State.
A statement by the special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, said Jonathan had also directed that those who were injured be given prompt and effective medical attention.
The statement indicated that appropriate federal agencies were already coordinating efforts to give effect to the presidential order.
“The president is deeply saddened by the loss of many lives caused by an explosion resulting from the leakage of fuel from a fallen tanker at Okogbe, Rivers State, today.
“President Jonathan is particularly distraught by the fact that once again, so many Nigerian lives have been lost in an avoidable fuel fire disaster.
“He conveys his sincerest condolences to the families of the victims, and the government and people of Rivers State,” Abati said.
In a related development, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has said that 95 burnt bodies were recovered from the Okobe tanker crash scene.
Confirming the incident, the spokesperson for the agency, Yushau A. Shuaib said the incident occurred when the fuel tanker had fallen and the villagers then trooped to the scene to scoop for fuel when the tanker burst into flames shortly afterwards, burning scores beyond recognition. According to Emenike, the incident occurred at about 7:30a.m yesterday morning.