BY HENRY UMORU, CHRIS OCHAYI & CALEB AYANSINA
ABUJA—A loud explosion from the Conoil Filling Station directly opposite the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Headquarters, Abuja, triggered a fire outbreak yesterday that flared on for hours in the capital city. It was gathered that the explosion occurred from a tanker that was discharging gasoline.
The explosion sent out a large ball of fire and smoke into the air, thereby causing serious commotion around the densely populated business area of the city causing serious traffic blockade in the process thereby bringing business activities to a halt.
Although no casualties were recorded, many sustained injuries as a result of the stampede to escape from the area, as many who did not know the exact cause, thought it was a bomb blast from insurgents.
Fire fighters from the Nigerian Army, the Federal Fire Service, Guards Brigade, FCT Fire Service and the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, battled to put out the fire which lasted over three hours, from almost 2.30 to 4.30 pm.
Several buildings rocked
The impact of the explosion rocked several buildings in the vicinity with glasses of some buildings surrounding the filling station shattered. The structures include the NNPCTowers and the MillenniumBuildersPlaza, the building housing Punch newspapers as well as banks and other establishments. A driver with Zenith Bank who sustained serious injuries from the impact was rushed to the hospital by an ambulance belonging to the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA.
Two staff of NNPC who were said to be hypertensive collapsed from the effect of the smoke and were subsequently rushed to the hospital. Ambulances from NEMA, FRSC and other rescue agencies were on hand to render services during the confusion.
CP Ogunbayode and Brig. Gen. Atewe
Speaking with journalists, Commissioner of Police, CP, FCT Command, Mr. Femi Ogunbayode who was accompanied by the Commander, Guards Brigade, Brigadier General Emmanuel Atewe to the scene of the inferno, said that the authorities could not ascertain the number of casualties, but said that rescue efforts were ongoing.
A staff of the filling station who pleaded anonymity told Vanguard that the truck driver failed to put off the engine of the truck while it was discharging the product.
The staff said: “Usually, whenever this kind of thing happens, the NNPC helps us to put the fire out. This time around, I don’t know why they didn’t do anything. They have a big truck, but I don’t know whether or not they didn’t have enough water to put the fire out.
“This kind of thing happens often. Whenever it happens, we often put it off. It has happened four times before. This year, it has happened once. No car was burnt, except the truck that was discharging the fuel. Everybody escaped unhurt and the vehicles were able to escape too.”
Speaking with Vanguard on the cause of the inferno, a fuel attendant, at the burnt Conoil filling station, John Okoh who disclosed that the inferno occurred in the course of discharging fuel from the tanker, said: “We were monitoring the fuel tanker and in the process of discharging the fuel from the tanker to the underground tank, the fire came out of the holes, which almost caught our clothes before we ran.
The attendant lamented that if the tanker driver was able to enter the vehicle and moved it away, the fire outbreak would have been controlled
Another eye witness, Grace Bakka said: “I was making transaction in the bank when I heard that fire has gutted the filling station opposite NNPC tower, I ran out of the bank and I saw the fire before the explosions started. It was not a bomb, it was fire explosion.
FCT Minister speaks
Meanwhile, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, Senator Bala Mohammed, who rushed to the scene of the incident described it as unfortunate. He said: “We have not got the details to know what caused the fire, but certainly it is not an explosive device, it is the fuel that became the source of the explosion and it almost affected the underground tunnels.
“This incident should be an eye opener to us, if the NNPC can do something to see that a similar thing does not happen again in the future.
NNPC boss on safety audit
Also speaking at the scene of the accident, the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Mr. Andrew Yakubu who disclosed that the corporation plans to carry out a comprehensive safety audit, said: “We as major stakeholders in the downstream sector will collaborate with other stakeholders in the industry to ensure that we do a comprehensive safety audit. We are going to use this incidence to improve on our own processes.”