Hell was let loose yesterday in Onitsha, Anambra State, as a tanker bearing fuel fell into a gutter, spilled its content and exploded. At least three persons, including a woman and her child, were burnt beyond recognition in the inferno.
Also, part of Ochanja Market, six residential houses, including three 4-storey buildings, and many vehicles were razed.
The tanker lost control and fell into the drainage at MCC Bus stop near Toronto Hospital, Upper-Iweka, Onitsha. As the tanker fell, it spilled its content around the area and exploded. The fuel in the drainage flowed down with fire and consumed many houses along Iweka Road before it entered part of Ochanja Market.
It was gathered that the woman and her child lost their lives when they fell into the big gutter at Ochanja First Gate while trying to escape. They were completely roasted.
Another man at his shop at Ochanja by Zik Avenue went back to his shop to collect the money he kept there while the fire was burning and was trapped there, leading to his death.
The fire was still raging at Ochanja Market at the time of filing this report Some commercial banks quickly closed as the fire was spreading close to them at Ochanja Market junction.
There was presence of security agents, who could not do anything to stop the fire due to lack of fire fighting equipment. Some of the police officers told our reporter that they could not do anything with their bare hands or guns.
They blamed the spread of the fire to non-availability of fire service men and equipment that would have been used to stop the fire from spreading further.
It was gathered that the only fire fighting vehicle that came from Asaba in Delta State one hour after the fire started was sent back by angry youths, who threatened to burn the vehicle. They blamed the Anambra State government for the disaster by not providing fire-fighting equipment to area.
A witness, Mr. Okoye Nneji, said that they saw fire coming through the drainage, which made the motorists, traders and passersby to run helter-skelter. He attributed the disaster to lack of fire extinguisher and other equipment.
He said that many people might be trapped inside their shops at Ochanja Market, stressing that the number of casualties could rise.
Okoye said: “How can a tanker that fell down close to MCC bus stop at Upper Iweka spread fire to about one kilometer without any fire fighting vehicle coming to put out the fire until the whole damage was done and lives wasted?
“We don’t have government in this state. What we have here is rubber stamp government, which doesn’t have the interest of the people at heart. Are we supposed to wait till a disaster like this occurs before the government will provide fire fighting equipment to strategic places like Upper Iweka and major markets.
“This is not the first time similar accidents would occur at Upper Iweka but our government doesn’t learn from experiences of the past and provide fire fighting equipment at the place,” Okoye stated.
Another witness said that no fewer than four persons had so far died in the incident.
“I saw four lifeless bodies, while a number of persons are still trapped in a building still burning,” he said.
Meanwhile, the police in Anambra have confirmed the death of yet to be identified woman and her child following the fire incident.
Mr Haruna Mohammed, police public relations officer in the state, confirmed the deaths in a statement issued in Awka, the capital of the state.
Mohammed said that the bodies of the unidentified woman and her baby, who were burnt beyond recognition, had been deposited at the Toronto Hospital, Onitsha.
He said that the fire, which started at about 12.59pm, occurred when a tanker carrying petroleum products lost control and fell around Upper Iweka area of Onitsha.
“The petroleum product later caught fire and affected many shops and houses,” he said.
The police spokesperson said that the state Commissioner of Police, Mr John Abang, had visited the scene for on the spot assessment.
Haruna appealed to residents of Onitsha to remain calm while men of the Fire Service department combat the fire.
Mohammed said that consequent upon the unruly conduct of some street boys, the police patrol teams had cordoned off the area to prevent hoodlums from taking advantage to loot while efforts were still ongoing to put out the fire.
Former governor Peter Obi described the Onitsha fire incident as very sad and regrettable, especially at this difficult time. He appealed to government at all levels to come to the side of those affected.