•Eye witness recounts Calabar fire that killed dozens
By Emmanuel Unah, Calabar
Faulty vehicles, reckless driving and bad roads have combined in Cross River State to cause deaths on regular basis.
Daily, large numbers of trucks from the northern part of the state and neighbouring states like Benue, Taraba, Ebonyi, Abia, Imo and Nasarawa traverse the bumpy roads that lead to Calabar, the state capital, to load cement from Lafarge premises and also the Export Free Zone to carry petroleum products which they take back home.
However, regularly some of these trucks end up not getting back home as they are involved in one road mishap or the other. The goods conveyed are often destroyed and lives lost in the process. The most worrisome of the road mishaps are those which involve trucks laden with petroleum products.
When such vehicles are involved in accident, villagers living near such scenes see it as an opportunity to scavenge the fallen products by scooping them into jerry cans and buckets which they sell at giveaway prices.
Oftentimes the scavenging and scrambling end in tragedy as the products ignite, leaving many persons dead or with badly burned bodies.
In recent times, there have been such incidents at Mbok Junction in Ogoja Local Government Area, Iwuru in Biase Local Government Area and the one that took place at New Netim Junction in Odukpani Local Government Area some 15 kilometres away from Calabar only last weekend.
The latest accident, according to an eye witness, who gave his name as Richard Odu, occurred when a truck veered off the road at the New Netim Junction into a gully and the tank separated from the head and its content spilled in the process.
“When the tanker fell, many people from Odukpani and neighbouring areas came with containers to scoop fuel. Some soldiers came and tried to send them away but they refused to leave and, after some time, the tanker went up in flames and majority of them were caught in the explosion”.
He said many of the victims were Okada riders, women, children and young people who were scooping the fuel and selling to motorists who queued on the other side of the road.
According to him, when the explosion occurred, many were trapped in the fire because their clothes were drenched with fuel.
When the fire burnt out, over 50 people had died and over 40 others badly burned. Some were burnt to ashes while some were left with just the torso. 21 victims were rushed to the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital for medical attention where five died the next day. Some victims who could not be recognized were given mass burial at the scene of the incident.
Three siblings of the same family died in the fire while a man, who gave his name as Etuk, had his wife burnt to ashes leaving him with six children to cater for.
When Sunday Vanguard visited the community close to the scene of the accident, nearly all the families of the persons who died in the inferno were in hospital or at home receiving local treatment.
Those receiving treatment at home said they were either rejected at the General Hospital or were not attended to at the teaching hospital.
“We spent over 40,000 in the hospital buying drugs and no other care was given to our son, so we had to take him home”, said Helen who was seen fanning his son
Mr Chris Ita, spokesman for Governor Ben Ayade, said adequate arrangement had been made by government to treat those in hospital free.
“The state Commissioner for Health donated some kits to the teaching hospital to be used in treating the victims but those at home are not our business, they ought to have been in hospital”.