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Horror: How PHCN cable claimed many lives

The killer cable dangling from an electric pole

By Jimitota Onoyume

PORT HARCOURT- Nobody saw it coming. Not even seers. For victims and families of the sad incident, last Saturday would forever remain a black day in their lives. Port Harcourt going by its industrial nature is a very busy town. Like the saying goes, “no food for lazy man”. This probably was the driving spirit of most of the victims of the sad incident who defied the heavy downpour that morning to be on the streets to eke out a living

Unfortunately they were oblivious of any lurking danger that fateful day as they found themselves crammed inside two commercial buses parked beside the Trans Amadi zoological garden, around Trans Amadi Industrial road and directly under a high tension cable belonging to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria.

Indeed unknown to the passengers and drivers in the buses the beckoning tragedy was but a few minutes away.  The weather that day was not particularly friendly because of the heavy down pour, a situation many later interpreted as nature’s way of raising alarm about the imminent danger.

The conductors were still jostling for passengers when suddenly one of the four naked high tension cables snapped and landed on the buses. And what followed next could better be imagined than described. The charred remains of some of the passengers vividly told the horror story: They were burnt beyond recognition. Sources said the branch of a tree which was dislodged by the wind fell on the cable, causing it to snap.

Occupants of the buses were not the only victims of the sad development. Many pedestrians, including hawkers, also lost their lives as they scampered for safety during the resulting pandemonium. Nobody could immediately get close to some of the casualties until the PHCN disconnected power supply to the cable and the whole area. When finally people were sure that current was no more flowing from the cable dangling from the pole across the road,  efforts were made by public spirited individuals to evacuate the casualties with some chances of survival for medical attention.

One of the two buses affected.

Those thus rescued were first taken to a trauma centre close to the Isaac Boro park. But the Good Samaritans met a rude brickwall as  the management of the centre  reportedly rejected the casualties on the excuse that they only treat gun shot and bone related cases. On account of this, the victims were then rushed to the state-owned Braithwaite Memorial Hospital and the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital in Choba.

At press time it was not clear how many persons died from the sad incident because of the conflicting figures being thrown up from different quarters. For some of the eye witnesses and rescue workers who spoke to Vanguard Metro under condition of strict anonymity, no fewer than 50 persons lost their lives.  But for the Rivers State Police Command, the death toll was 10 with 12 injured and receiving treatment. This almost tallied with figures released by the state government which have it that 10 persons  died with 13 injured, a position that was corroborated by a statement from the PHCN and signed by its Public affairs officer, Mr. John Onyi

PHCN in the statement said: “The degree of casualties would have been minimal if that place had not been converted to a mini-commercial motor park. Ten persons have been confirmed dead while nine are receiving medical treatment at the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital and University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital ”. The company said it was still going to conduct investigation to ascertain why the cable snapped. “The management and entire staff regret this unfortunate incident. However, the entire area has been isolated pending when investigation is completed,” the statement read in part.

Footwears, among other items, littered the area where the incident occurred. There were also remains of some charred bodies. The state Police Public Relations Officer, Mrs. Rita Inoma Abbey said efforts were on to trace families of the dead. Vanguard Metro also saw some people who raced to the scene apparently for information on the whereabout of their relatives.

Some of them took time turning over some of the footwears littering the road to see if they could provide clues on their relatives. At the time of this report, security operatives had been deplored to the area. The two commercial buses that the cable landed on had been moved to a near by police station.

Meanwhile, the Rivers State government has called for technical investigation to ascertain why the high tension cable gave way just as it assured survivors receiving treatment at the state-owned Braithwaite Memorial Hospital and the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital of government support. Secretary to the state government, Mr. Magnus Abbey who led some Commissioners to the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital said the incident was painful, particularly with the lives lost.


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