The scene of the explosion.
*Pregnant women, children among victims
*Jonathan orders prompt medical help for survivors
RIVERS - OVER 100 persons, including pregnant women, youths and children perished, yesterday, July 12, 2012 on the East-West Road, at Okogbe community in Ahoada West Local Government Area of Rivers State, when a petrol tanker from which they were scooping fuel exploded with the content.
The ill-fated tanker, according to eyewitness accounts, was trying to avoid a head on collision with a commercial vehicle at about 7am. It subsequently lost control and ran into a ditch, falling on its side.
Several other persons sustained various degrees of burns while sympathizers rushed survivors to the hospitals.
No fewer than five buses and scores of motorbikes were destroyed in the inferno, which also affected a section of a filling station, some distance away from the scene of the tragic incident.
The development caused gridlock on the usually busy East-West Road as vehicles from the Port Harcourt and Warri ends were stranded for hours. Most motorists, who could not bear the trauma, were forced to make u- turn.
Commercial vehicles from Yenagoa, heading to Port Harcourt, were also forced to beat a retreat when news of the tragic incident filtered into town.
According to witnesses, when residents rushed to the scene, the fuel in the tanker was gushing out and they swooped on it with jerrycans.
Just as the residents were helping themselves with petrol from the tanker, it exploded in a huge flame and consumed those in the ditch scooping fuel.
The raging inferno spread rapidly to the main road cutting off the route and also engulfed those on motorbike carrying the scooped fuel in jerrycans.
The helpless residents were forced to use their motorbikes in conveying burnt victims to hospitals at Ahoada and Mbiama in Rivers, a border town between Rivers and Bayelsa states.
Men of the Nigeria Police Force and soldiers who arrived the scene helped in controlling traffic and restored sanity on the chaotic route.
A resident who simply gave his name as Francis said though he counted 98 bodies burnt beyond recognition, the number could be more given the number of residents that thronged the scene in their desperate attempt to scoop fuel from the tanker.
He added that there might have been spark during the stampede for the product by residents some of whom were carrying steel containers to scoop the fuel.
Jonathan orders prompt medical help for survivors
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, expressed deep sadness over the loss of many lives as a result of the petrol tanker explosion.
In a statement the Special Adviser to the president on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati said the President has directed federal relief and health agencies to do everything possible to ensure that all those who survived the explosion with burns and injuries receive prompt and effective medical attention.
While conveying his condolences to the families of the victims, and the government and people of Rivers State over the unfortunate incidence, the President expressed distraught that so many Nigerian lives have been lost in an avoidable fuel fire disaster.
Amaechi mourns, rushes back from Abuja
Meanwhile, Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State has expressed sadness over the accident. The governor who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Dave Iyorfor on phone to our source said he was devastated by the development.Ibim Seminitari Rivers state commissioner of information who on phone comfirmed to me that the death toll had risen to 100 was almost in tears as she quickly cut off the phone.
Amaechi who was in Abuja when the incident occurred said he had cut short his trip to rush down to the scene of the accident. “We are on our way from Abuja. The governor was really devastated by the incident. He has cut short his trip to Abuja so as to get to the scene of the accident”, Iyorfor said.
This tanker explosion came barely two months after a similar incident at Igwuruta roundabout in the state that consumed a family of four and burnt about 50 houses.