…five hundred lock-up shops in Onitsha, youths mock Anambra government, attack fire Service officials.

By Chimaobi Nwaiwu

A woman and a baby died while no fewer than forty buildings, ranging from two storey to four-storey buildings, Wednesday, burnt along Iweka Street, while over five hundred lock-up shops along the Iweka Road street market leading to Ochanja and Menax market were either burnt down completely or gutted by the fire

Updated: Fuel tanker explodes in Onitsha, burns over 40 buildings

The incident started when a tanker laden with Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, otherwise known as fuel, descending from the Ziks roundabout end of Onitsha Enugu expressway, lost control from Eastern Academy Secondary School opposite Toronto Hospital Onitsha, and veered off the service lane, with the fuel tanker falling off the truck head and splashing fuel all over the area which immediately caught fire.

Over thirty private and government-owned transport companies including Tracas owned by Anambra state Government, Peace mass Transit, Onitsha South Mass Transport company including many others, including Luxury bus operators along the area, were lucky as their vehicles, mostly luxury and mini busses escaped being caught by the fire, just as traders of different wares were also lucky to escape the incident.

However, owners of the buildings along Iweka Road to Ochanja and Menax Markets, shop traders and tenants were not as lucky as transport companies and open street traders, as their buildings, flats and shops were completely raised down by the raging fire.

Many old men, women and children in most of the building were trapped as youths had to climb up to three to four-storey buildings to rescue them before the fire which was fast-moving from one building to another caught up with them.

The fire which according to an eye witness started at about 10 am had no fire servicemen from any part of Anambra state to the rescue, none of the markets in Onitsha and Local Government, as usual had any functional Fire Service station to respond to the ugly situation, as people were helplessly looking at their houses, shops, goods and flats burning down.

But for the resilience and courage of some youths, some elderly men and women including children trapped in over ten buildings ranging from two, three and four-storey buildings lining up along Iweka road towards Ochanja Market would have burnt to death as smokes almost suffocated them before rescue came their way..

There was mild drama when youths started chanting ant Anambra State Government, ruling party in the state, slogans following heartbreaking way peoples buildings, flats, shops and wares were burning without any fire service official to render help.

The drama continued when two toilet drilling tankers started using the faeces mixed with water they were carrying to dump sites were forced by the youths to use it to put off the fire, which they tried but with little success as the fire continued to rage towards Ochanja market.

As the youths were chanting anti-government songs, a fire service vehicle said to have come from Asaba appeared with water, but the angry youths who thought they came from Anambra state started stoning and destroying the windscreens and the driver and two occupants could not contain the attacks and quickly turned and ran for their lives.

The youth continued with manual collection of water with buckets from a borehole on the street, with the Pastor of Greater Grace and Fire Assembly, Pastor Francis Eze, popularly known as Pastor Ejima, who owns a filling station Pillar Energy’s Limited, supplying detergents and fire extinguisher for the youths to put off the fire moving through the gutter, while other youths were using buckets to collect faeces splashed on the ground by toilet drilling tankers to put off the fire which was moving from the gutters to buildings.

The crowd along Iweka Road towards Ochanja became difficult to control and the fire continued raging towards the market and the shops on the street, which led to people running for their lives, it was at that point the dead woman and her baby were trapped,

The woman carrying her baby was said to have tried to jump out of her shop, but mistakenly steeped on slippery object and fell into the gutter raging with fire and could not be rescued as the fire covered the whole place and people were said to be scared to go near,

As at the time of filing this report efforts were being made by youths to prevent the fire which has levelled shops, particularly provision shops along Menax market, from entering Ochanja Main Market, but the United Bank for Africa, UBA attached to the market was not lucky to escape the fire which had already gutted the building facing the Iweka Road and Ochanja Roundabout.

There is fear that more human casualties may be recorded following the number of buildings affected, and the closeness to each other along the Iweke Road leading to Ochanja Market.

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