Photo credit: The PUNCH
Survivors of a tanker fire which ravaged a community in Ogun have spoken up.
Thirty-year-old Ayoade Adetola whose Sports Utility Vehicle was damaged in the Tuesday tanker explosion in Abeokuta, Ogun State, which killed three persons and injured six others, waved her hands in adoration to God for her narrow escape.
She thereafter narrated her experience to somebody on the phone when our correspondent met her after the accident. Adetola was one of the persons who could have been burnt to death in the explosion that occurred early morning on the presidential Boulevard road, Kuto, Abeokuta.
The accident occurred close to both a commercial bank and a school housing some persons at the time.
Our correspondent gathered that the 33,000 fuel-laden tanker reportedly caught fire shortly after it had a partial head-on collision with Adetola’s car. But miraculously the vehicle’s four occupants were unhurt while the SUV was badly damaged.
Sharing her near-death experience, Adetola said, “It is a testimony. Early this morning (Tuesday), I dropped off my children at the school and headed to the office. I picked up three other people and we were heading to the office. On getting here (the accident scene), we saw the tanker driver descending the bridge. The next thing we saw was that the driver was heading towards our direction. He probably lost balance or had a brake failure. I really cannot tell why he headed towards our direction.
“The tanker hit my vehicle and miraculously, it gained strength, landed on the median and managed to escape through the other side and the tanker caught fire. That was what happened. We were four in the car; two men and two women. I am 30 years old.”
Also sharing his experience, another survivor, Ososanya Taiwo, said his Golf car was lost in the accident while he was at the bank doing a transaction. He was shocked when he rushed out shortly after the explosion and saw his car engulfed in fire.
Taiwo said, “As I was coming out of the bank, I saw the petrol tanker explode. As I moved close towards my car, I saw that it was already in flames. I didn’t know what next to do. What I saw was the fire. There were many cars parked outside the bank, but they managed to escape. My car was not lucky as fire gutted it.”
Taiwo’s car was one of the burnt cars evacuated from the scene after the incident.
Also counting her loss, a horticulturist identified only as Mrs Adeyemi, who trades at the roadside close to the bank, said the fire damaged her nurtured commercial flowers with their bars to ashes.
She told Saturday PUNCH, “I wasn’t around when it happened. I had to rush from where I was when someone called me. I thank God that it was not two days ago the incident happened. Two days ago, my children were with me. I was delayed on the day of the incident because my son was sick. I was at home that morning attending to him. I also took some few hours to rest because I was not feeling fine on the morning that the incident occurred.’’
She noted but she had yet to calculate her loss, adding that from her rough estimates, it would exceed N70, 000 because all the flowers were burnt.
Adeyemi added, “Some were between N3,000 and N5,000. But in all, I thank God for sparing my life. When the commissioner (Special Duties) came on Tuesday, he asked me to take pictures of the burnt flowers and calculate the cost. I took the pictures already and saved them in my email. I will await the state government support. Some people may be saying my loss was only flowers and what about the lives lost. I sympathise with the families of the dead really. I hope help will come my way.’’
According to her, tanker drivers often over-speed on the narrow road, urging the government to check their excesses on the road.
Remnants of charred human bodies were sighted after the fire was quenched by men of the fire service. Three burnt-bodies were seen lying beside some burnt cars and motorcycles after the fire was extinguished.
A Traffic Compliance and Enforcement corps, Ajibade Okewale, who was at the scene shortly before the tanker explosion narrated to our correspondent how the incident happened.
Okewale said, “I was the officer on duty that day. As I was controlling the traffic that morning, I observed that the tanker was descending the bridge with speed. The next thing I saw was that the tanker climbed the culvert there (pointing to a broken culvert at the accident scene) and it fell down.
“It took a few minutes before it caught fire. When it fell down, I still went about my duties as sometimes we see some of the tankers fall and there isn’t fuel or anything that can explode in them. I waited to be sure of the situation before taking the next step. When I saw the fire from the tanker, I ran away from the scene because the fire raged.’’
Okewale said truck drivers should avoid climbing bridges with speed.
He also advised Nigerians to always be conscious of their environment and be careful during emergency situations.
Another eyewitness identified only as Kaduna who said he works in the bank also shared his experience.
He said, “On the day of the incident, I stood in front of the bank and was just observing my environment when I saw the truck falling down and it caught fire within a few seconds after.
“The fire was still mild then. I and some other people went there to see if we could rescue some people trapped in the inferno and we were successful. The fire became much when the petrol inside the truck started spilling on the ground. The dried trees in the area also helped in the spread of the fire.”
Segun Oluwabunmi who also witnessed the incident said he was in the bank when he heard the explosion.
Sowunmi said, “I was about to make a deposit when I heard a bang. Everybody ran out. We all thought it was a bomb or some other thing. By the time all of us ran out from the banking hall, we saw that it was a petrol tanker, and there was fire. People parked cars outside the bank premises close to the fire incident. We shouted that they should start driving away their cars. We give thanks to God that the affected vehicles are not much.’’
Some security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to speak to the press on the matter attributed the degree of the incident to late arrival of fire service officials. They added that the water wasn’t also able to stop the fire on time.
One of them who spoke with our correspondent said he was shocked when he observed that the officials of the fire service could not put out the fire easily and quickly with the water from their trucks.
Our correspondent who was around the scene when it happened observed that shortly after the incident, some people, including motorcyclists were moving towards the scene while others were running away from the scene.
It took the arrival of some TRACE officers to cordon off the road leading to the scene from Kuto Roundabout and bar onlookers a few meters away.
It soon became tough for the officers to control the crowd who resisted being sent away from feasting on happenings at the accident scene.
It was gathered that the arrival of the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Operations, Muyideen Obe, who led a squad to the scene, stopped some hoodlums from taking advantage of the explosion to besiege the bank.
Some eyewitnesses told our correspondent that during the explosion, the bank officials and customers panicked.
One of the bank customers said the bank workers opened the exit door for people to escape. She said, “Many of them got stuck in the security door. The entire place was filled with thick smoke. The smoke filtered into the banking hall. I was scared.’’
The state Commanding Officer, Fire Services, Obisesan Olatunde, explained how his men put out the fire.
He said, “Our mandate is to put the fire off which our officers did. At the last count, three men died and five injured. They are in hospitals receiving treatment.”
He further stated that his men and others from the sister agencies managed the situation.
Olatunde said, “When the fire was put off. We needed to offload the remaining fuel in the tanker. It was not the entire fuel in the tanker that got burnt.”
Speaking on the whereabouts of the tanker driver, Olatunde said “According to an eyewitness, the driver was shouting ‘brake failure’ and in trying to divert the tanker, he hit some vehicles. The information that got to us was that the driver was badly injured too.”
When contacted to speak on the matter, the state Emergency Management Agency said it had begun stock-taking on the number of property lost to the explosion.
The Director of SEMA in the state, Ige Olufolarin, said “The ministry of health has taken over the care of the injured victims in hospitals. We cleared the debris on that day and the Motor Cutters Association of Nigeria has started separating the parts. On the part of the people, we are likely to present a memo to the governor, maybe, we can look at where government can come in to help those who lost property to the inferno.’’
On whether families of the dead victims had started claiming their corpses, Olufolarin said, “We are expecting them to come to us. Already, we have the number of vehicles involved. The total number is seven with the tanker. One of them was completely damaged. The Lexus was damaged and five other vehicles burnt. Five motorcycles were burnt.
“We expect the people to come to our office. They should bring their vehicle particulars so that we would know the type of vehicles involved in the accident. From that, we can make recommendations to the governor. The owners of the Lexus and Golf car have come. We will make recommendations to the governor so that he can give something like relief money.’’
He further said that to know the identities of those burnt to death in the inferno, they might do DNA from their bones. “Now, no one has come forward to claim their bodies. Anxiously, we are awaiting the results to be able to make recommendations to the governor,’’ he added.
Few hours after the incident, Governor Dapo Abiodun visited the scene to assess the level of damage and described the incident as sad and unfortunate. He also announced the banning of tankers and other articulated vehicles from plying flyover bridges in the state. The governor also vowed that stiffer punishment would be meted out to any tanker found culpable.
He said the badly injured persons had been taken to the Federal Medical Centre, Idi -Aba, and the State Hospital, Ijaye, both in Abeokuta.
He stated, “The record that we have as of now is that there are three casualties. We have another six people that sustained various degrees of burns. Three of them are at the Federal Medical Centre and the other three are at Ijaye hospital receiving urgent medical attention. We have gone a step further by inviting burns specialists from Lagos to attend to those that have about 80 to 90 per cent burns which require special attention and have since arrived in Abeokuta. They will advise us if there will be a need to refer them to the burns centre in Lagos.”
However, the Head, Public Relations, FMC, Abeokuta, Segun Orisajo said one of the victims receiving treatment at the centre died on Thursday.
Source: The PUNCH