By Anayo Okoli
UMUAHIA—THE death toll from last Friday’s Osisioma pipeline explosion in Abia is said to have risen to over 24, even as Eze Ikechukwu Chiavoghilefu, Chairman, Osisioma Local Government Traditional Rulers Council, put the figure at 150.
This is just as another monarch accused security operatives of causing the disaster, as they were collecting money from the villagers that came to scoop fuel, instead of preventing them from entering the site.
According to Eze Chiavoghilefu, the number of casualties has been rising steadily, as, according to him, dozens of people that were badly burnt eventually died.
He specifically cited a particular health clinic, where about 70 victims were taken to after the incident happened on Friday, saying that in less than 24 hours over 30 of them died.
The monarch, who spoke when the Senator representing the area in the National Assembly, Chief Theodore Orji, visited the affected communities to sympathise with the victims, insisted that the death toll has risen to over 150.
N1,000 ‘gate pass’
According to the monarch, “about 70 persons were packed to the health clinic near my palace on the first day it happened. All of them are now dead. Up to 150 have so far died.”
He said their communities have been thrown into mourning as victims keep dying every day on account of the severe burns they sustained.
Another monarch, Eze Godswill Mgbarime of Umueze, one of the affected communities, also said so many of his subjects had died as a result of injuries they sustained from the explosion.
Eze Mgbarime blamed the disaster on security operatives who he said were collecting money from villagers that were coming to scoop fuel from a leaking pipeline, rather than stopping them from gaining access to the scene.
According to Eze Mgbarime, “when the leakage occurred, some security men arrived the place and, instead of doing their job, they were collecting N1,000 from each person that came to scoop fuel there.
“We learned that three of them also died when the fire started.”
Speaking during the visit, Senator Orji called on the Federal Government to quickly direct the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, to move relief materials and medication to the affected communities, even as he lamented the level of devastation and tragedy caused by the explosion.
“I came and I have seen a lot of damage. So many lives were lost; houses and farmlands destroyed,” he lamented.
He expressed grief over the incident which he described as “a disaster of unimaginable magnitude.”
Senator Orji, who lamented the failure of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, to repair the leaky pipelines despite being duly notified, said it was negligence and called for investigation.
However, he noted, no excuse justifies the action of locals who were allegedly scooping fuel from the leaking pipes, considering the high risk involved.
Meanwhile, the Divisional Police Officer in the area, Mr. Obongoma Udosen, said 19 corpses were recovered from one of the scenes, four in another area, saying some of the victims had been moved to the Abia State University Teaching Hospital, Aba.