Tanker exploded. The explosion sounded like an earthquake. Many of them could not come out alive,” a panic-stricken survivor of a petrol tanker fire that killed over 200 at the outskirts of Okogbe community, Rivers State, on Thursday narrated to The PUNCH.
The survivor, whose car was one of the vehicles involved in the accident that led to the falling of the tanker, only lived to tell the story by abandoning his car and running for dear life shortly before the tanker exploded.
Most of the dead victims were reported to be part of the crowd that gathered to scoop fuel at the spot of the fallen fuel-laden tanker on the East-West Road.
The Rivers State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Sampson Parker, who was at the scene of the incident, said, “The corpses that I counted alone were over 200 and they have not finished counting. It is cremation; some were burnt to ashes.
“So how many can you count? It is a sad situation. We heard that about 50 injured victims had been taken to the hospital, but it is too early to say the exact figure.”
The commissioner, who also visited Ahoada General Hospital to see the injured victims, lamented that those admitted at the hospital suffered 75 per cent degrees of burns upwards.
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The Rivers State Sector Commander of the FRSC, Dr. Kayode Olagunju, however told one of our correspondents on the phone that only 95 persons died in the incident.
Olagunju said, “There is a major fatal crash at Okogbe about 11 kilometres from Ahaoda-Mbiama on the East-West Road in Rivers State.
“The accident occurred around 6.30am. A tanker laden with petrol crashed with three other vehicles; a Toyota Corolla, Hummer bus and a Mitsubishi bus were involved. Thirty-four motorcycles also got burnt.
“People were scooping fuel from the fallen tanker when it (tanker) exploded. Ninety-three persons died on the spot, two died in the hospital while 18 persons were injured.”
Residents of the area however put the figure at well above 200, made up mainly of women and children.
“They came in five, 20, 50, and in their hundreds, they flooded the place. I tried to stop them but they did not listen to me. At that time the drivers of the tanker and the bus were quarrelling with each other. But the bus driver later ran away,” the lucky survivor narrated further. He refused to give his name.
A member of the community who identified himself as Sunday said over 200 persons were burnt to death while about 100 were rushed to various hospitals.
He said he narrowly escaped death as the tanker exploded while he was rushing to the scene with jerrycans to scoop the fuel.
“They were more than 100 that died. I was rushing to the place to fetch my own fuel when the thing exploded. The dead people were not just from our community alone, people from nearby communities such as Ayakama, Obolobo were involved. They all came to fetch fuel”, he said.
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One of our correspondents reports that the incident created confusion in Okogbe, a neighbouring community to Bayelsa State, and caused gridlock along the busy East-West Road that leads to Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State.
The site of the explosion was not too far from an Agip Oil pipeline and filling station.
The charred remains of the victims littered the point where the incident took place, even as some victims, who ran into the bush with fire all over their bodies, eventually died.
It was gathered that the petrol tanker, which had skidded off the road while trying to avoid running over an oncoming Toyota Camry vehicle, fell into a ditch with a side of the body resting on the ground.
Another eyewitness, Mr. Segun Oluwatuyi, told The PUNCH that the driver of the Toyota Camry had lost control of the car after being hit by a Mitsubishi bus from the rear.
Oluwatuyi said a tanker loaded with petrol was coming on the opposite side of the road before it swerved in an attempt to avoid running over the Toyota Camry.
He explained that the tanker then fell near the bush while the driver was able to escape without injury.
Oluwatuyi said the tanker driver, who noticed that some villagers, including commercial motorcycle riders, were approaching the tanker laden with 33,000 litres of petrol to scoop fuel, warned them against their action.
He explained that the tanker did not go up in flames immediately it fell about 6.30am, noting that the vehicle exploded 30 minutes after the accident.
“The driver warned some of the villagers before leaving the scene of the accident, he told them not to go near the petrol tanker, which still had its engine on as at the time it fell on the ground, but they never listened to him.
“About 30 minutes after the driver had left the scene of the accident, the tanker caught fire and many people died. Those who died were over 150 while about 65 other that were seriously injured were rushed to different hospitals,” he said.
An official of the National Security and Civil Defence Corps, who preferred anonymity, said one of the victims that were fetching fuel from the petrol tanker had used his (victim’s) mobile phone to call a friend, inviting him to come and scoop fuel.
The official explained that the call made by one of the victims had triggered the explosion.
Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. David Iyofor, said Governor Rotimi Amaechi was devastated when he learnt about the incident.
Iyofor told one of our correspondents in Port Harcourt that the governor had cut short his trip to Abuja and was on his way back to the state in order to address the issue.
“The governor is completely devastated over the incident. He went for a meeting in Abuja and has decided to cut short his trip. He is currently on his way to the scene of the incident,” he said.
At Ahoada General Hospital, where two of the victims died, the Chief Nursing Officer, Mrs Ebeku, said the first batch of victims, who were 11 in number, were given first aid and referred to a hospital in Port Harcourt.
Ebeku also said that similar treatment was given to the second batch of eight victims while the third batch of 16 victims was being treated about 1.30pm when one of our correspondents visited the hospital.
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