LAST weekend, a tragic inferno near Ifesinachukwu Motors, Onitsha/Enugu Express Road, Onitsha, brought a sad reminder of the incessant fuel tanker fire outbreaks which nearly crumbled the commercial activities of the ancient city, rendering many homeless and others poverty stricken.
Tales of woes and lamentations which had continued to trail tanker fire incidents propelled the state government to tackle seriously the incidences of fire outbreak in the state. During such visits to condole with the victims, the state governor urged all markets and various commercial centres to provide fire service equipment and ensure access to the roads to their markets. This is to enable fire service operators get access to the markets. The government on its own provided fire equipment and bore holes in markets.
In the last eight years, the rate of tanker fire outbreak seemed unabated. The most dreadful was that of May 31,2015, in which more than 85 people perished at Asaba/Onitsha Motor Park at Upper Iweka, Onitsha.
Yours sincerely, the writer of this article escaped in less than a minute through the divine intervention before the dark Sunday.
A total of 18 buses and every human being inside the park perished within few minutes except those at the periphery who escaped with different degrees of injuries.
The fuel tanker was reported to have lost control near the Army Barracks, hitting vehicles in the process before settling at the park with a heavy shout of Heeye! and a bang.
There was no escape route as the fire started burning from the surroundings even as the content spilled around the surroundings.
Among the first aid workers was the Red Cross, led by Prof Peter Katelyn, who with other fire services team and sympathisers managed to transfer corpses to different hospitals as Toronto Hospital was filled. Corpses who were burnt beyond recognition were left at the floor of the hospital.
Hundreds of sympathisers and relations of the dead ones from Asaba, Delta State and environs, on Monday, thronged the scene of Sunday fuel explosion, hospitals and mortuaries in Onitsha in attempts to identify their lost ones.
Another major fuel tanker explosion was that of Ochanja Market on October 16, 2019, where many souls were lost and about 40 houses and 500 shops were completely burnt down. There was a story that a woman and her son fell into a burning fire in the gutter while she was trying to rescue her son.
The incident was said to have been caused by a fuel tanker which lost control at the Army Barracks and landed at the former Onitsha/Asaba Bus Stop, killing many and destroying many vehicles.
The content of the tanker spilled through the drainage system toward Ochanja Market. An eyewitness account stated that the spilled petrol met a naked fire and the worst happened.
In less than two hours, the whole market was engulfed with fire, spreading to private homes. The annoying aspect of the incident was that fire fighters were prevented from putting off the fire on the excuses that they arrived late. Fire fighters from Asaba were first to arrive despite the traffic jam at the bridge head, followed by those at Onitsha, who were reportedly threatened and were disallowed to near the inferno.
Another pathetic incident was that of February 17, 2017, when residents of Onitsha woke up to behold tales of woes as fire caused by a tanker laden with PMS lost control and struck a filling station around Denis Memorial Grammar School. The inferno razed down more than 12 vehicles, 14 buildings along Upper New Market Road, Onitsha.
It was also a horrified scene as most of the victims did not salvage any of their property.
The governor of Anambra State Chief Willie Obiano, who cut short his visit to Abuja made a surprise visit to sympathise with the victims. He was with Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe to sympathies with the victims stranded along DMGS.
His words: “Today, I visited the scene of the horrific fire at Onitsha – Oguta Road/ Awka Road Junction at Onitsha that destroyed a petrol station, several homes and businesses. I commiserate with the victims of the unfortunate incident, while noting the huge financial and material loses which will run into billions of Naira. The incident could have been prevented and contained sooner were the necessary facilities like hydrants, fire trucks and pipe borne water easily accessible.
This particular incident underlines the zoning policy and enforcement failure and the increasing indiscriminate sitting of petrol stations next to residential areas in our towns and cities”.
A political chieftain while lamenting the huge loss said he was bitter. “Why must we always rely on Delta fire service men that always come from Asaba to rescue Anambra people and their property anytime we have fire outbreak? Is Asaba fire service station that is always responding to our calls not under a government?”
In less than 48 hours after the Ochanja tanker fire outbreak occurred, another tanker fell along Chukwudi Bus Stop at Omaba Phase 2 and consumed a woman and her child among other properties destroyed.
A concerned Onitsha citizen reasoned that fire service men are faced with many difficulties.
His words: “At a time the fire service operators eventually approached the scene, it was difficult to meander to the point of the inferno due to heavy traffic as many vehicles were blocking the access road.
This problem, coupled with inadequacy of the fire service equipment proved to be the stumbling block towards fighting the fire such that trailer drivers just watched while their goods went up in flames.
The latest fire tanker explosion at Ogidi, near Onitsha, could have escalated if not for the swiftness and timely intervention of the various service operators.
The indiscriminate parking of vehicles along the road could have hindered the success but for the wisdom of the operators who tackled the incident from all fronts. Another way to tackle incidence of trailer fire outbreaks is to rehabitate major roads and clearing drainages.
It is worthy of note that soon after the roads are rehabitated, residents block the drainage systems causing the roads to be over flooded with water.
Water and fire equipment should be provided at various markets, motor parks and major businesses. Curbing incessant fuel tanker fire outbreak in Onitsha is not government affairs alone but that of all citizens. Fuel tanker owners should be able to maintain their vehicles properly before embarking on long journeys. There should be moderation in speed while heading into the town and avoidance of alcohol while driving. Parking of vehicles at unauthorised places and trading along the express way should be discouraged.
Upper Iweka Asaba/Onitsha bus area should be given a permanent site to load and off load their vehicles.
There are complaints of task force operators who always chase articulated vehicles. Government should intervene. These have claimed many lives and most of the drivers in a bit to dodge them fall into the ditch.
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