By Tony Edike
ENUGU—TRAGEDY struck in Enugu Wednesday night when a multiple auto crash reportedly claimed 25 lives and left 23 others with injuries.
The incident which occurred at Onyeama hill, on Enugu-Onitsha expressway, few kilometres from Enugu capital city at about 7.30 pm, was allegedly caused by a trailer driver who was driving and answering phone call at the same time.
The trailer was also said to have developed brake problem before descending the hill but the driver was said to have continued with his journey without minding the consequences of his action.
An eye witness said the driver of the trailer from the Northern part of the country, who did not sustain injury in the crash, lost control while descending Onyeama hill and rammed into four other vehicles ahead of him.
The vehicles involved were two 14-seater commuter buses, a Hilux van and one Honda car.
An eyewitness said that some of the injured persons were rushed to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH, Enugu, for treatment while the dead were deposited at the hospital mortuary.
Officials of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC and scores of sympathizers were still carrying out rescue operations at the scene yesterday evening as they tried to pull out some of the affected vehicles from the valley.
The State Sector Commander of FRSC, Mr. Hygienus Fonsuk, confirmed that people actually died in the incident but stated that the causualty figure was not as high as 25 reported by eyewitnesses.
The FRSC boss, however, said his men would visit hospitals to ascertain the actual casualty figure even though he confirmed that seven corpses had already been discovered in some hospitals..
“Yes, there was a multiple accident that occurred Wednesday at Onyeama hill, near Enugu. But I am not sure that the death rate is as high as what is being speculated in the media,” the Sector Commander said.
He added: “The picture of the accident is not clear as I am talking to you. I do not know where the media got their figure. Anyway, we shall get the actual figure of casualties when we visit hospitals today. I will brief you after the visit say in the afternoon”, he said.
Many residents of Enugu whose relations traveled on the road Wednesday beseiged the scene of the accient yesterday morning to ascertain the identities of the victims, but when they discovered that both the dead and the injured had been evacuated to the hospitals, they headed to the hospitals to continue the search.
Some of the motorists who spoke on the development, complained that the deplorable state of the road now being rehabilitated by CCC Nigeria Limited should be blamed for the frequent auto crashes within the Onyeama hill.
They argued that accident at that portion of the road would have been checkmated if the contracting firm had concluded the rehabilitation work on time and called for the Federal Government’s intervention to prevent further deaths on the road.
But in his reaction yesterday, Project Manager of the construction firm, Mr. Fawzi Nehmani, debunked claims that the accident was caused by ongoing rehabilitation work, explaining that work was not in progress at the scene of the accident.
He, however, urged motorists to excercise caution while driving along the road and respect warning signs to ensure safety of their lives and their passengers.