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Benue tanker explosion survivors recount ordeal

Paul Ayange, 18, an SS2 student of Mbabo Community Secondary School in Ahumbe village had no idea he would end up in hospital with severe…

Paul Ayange, 18, an SS2 student of Mbabo Community Secondary School in Ahumbe village had no idea he would end up in hospital with severe burns when he embarked on his usual short trek after school on Monday, July 1, 2019. But he did, following the petroleum tanker explosion along Makurdi-Aliade-Otukpo highway in Gwer East Local Government Area (LGA) of Benue State.

Ayange is still battling for survival at the Benue State Teaching Hospital (BSUTH). He was later referred there for further treatment after the initial medical attention he got in a health facility at Alaide town, close to the scene of the incident. Other students in his company weren’t so fortunate as they died in the inferno.

Ayange’s elder brother, Godwin, who had just secured admission into the Benue State University medical college, told Daily Trust on Saturday, “My younger brother was walking by the road side with other school mates where some people were scooping fuel from a fallen tanker, when suddenly, the exhaust of a passenger bus that was manoeuvring its way dipped into the petrol spilled on the road and that sparked the fire which gutted many people,” he said.

Similarly, Terfa Yongu, a survivor on admission at the Air Force Hospital in Makurdi, managed to explain that he was engulfed in the second explosion which occurred directly from the tanker as sympathisers tried to help evacuate victims of the first explosion trapped in a passenger bus.

Also, a relative of one of the victims, Reverend Father Joseph Aku, who is in charge of St Augustine Catholic Church, Nenger, said he was at the BSUTH because of his cousin, Solomon Kar, who sustained high degree burns as a result of the tanker fire. He said when he got the news about his cousin’s involvement in the tragedy, he immediately asked his people to bring him to Makurdi for better attention since the case was critical.

“So, he (victim) was transferred to BSUTH. He is currently at the intensive care unit. The doctors have told me in confidence that his case could not be managed successfully here, that he has to be transferred to Enugu. He is a town service driver who was conveying passengers to Alaide before the incident occurred. I’m told his passengers may have all died,” the clergy added.

Another relative, Joseph Thso, was seen at BSUTH, trying to obtain the death record of his elder brother’s son who died that morning (Tuesday) at the facility from injury sustained from the tanker explosion.

Thso said that his deceased nephew was a 22-year-old commercial motorcyclist who was on his way to the village when he met his death following the tanker explosion fire which engulfed him. He added that the doctors did their best.

Besides these victims, there are nearly 100 people currently receiving treatment at eight different hospitals in Makurdi and Alaide respectively, including two officers of the state’s Fire Service and a corp member from Ondo State who was videoing the incident.

Daily Trust Saturday had earlier gathered that the accident occurred when a fuel tanker with an inscription suggesting that it belonged to Total oil company allegedly dodging a pothole along the Aliade axis of the Makurdi-Otukpo highway tumbled across the road in Ahumbe village, leaving just a narrow space at the edge of each side of the main road. Petrol started spilling on the road and some natives scooped the fuel even as the driver and conductor of the tanker watched helplessly.

Several witnesses said the villagers carefully scooped the fuel with rubber buckets and coiled pipes, with some of them taking their filled containers for safe keeping at a distant hut from the roadside and returned to fetch as many times as they could. Unfortunately, a Toyota bus driver conveying passengers from the eastern part of the country and headed towards Abuja arrived the scene and insisted on manoeuvring his way around the fallen tanker despite warnings from other motorists, supposedly waiting for relevant response officials to clear the accident site.

Witnesses further explained that the villagers also advised the bus driver to wait awhile or navigate an un-tarred pathway within the locality to continue his journey, but he refused and his exhaust, probably hot and in contact with the fuel spilled on the road, triggered the first explosion which engulfed the bus.

Sadly, the second explosion occurred shortly after fire fighters, sympathisers, by-standers from other waiting vehicles in opposite directions and villagers tried to salvage the situation. It was gathered that it did more damage as it spread quickly to shops and houses near the road side.

The Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) in Benue State, Aliyu Baba, had on the following day of the incident confirmed 37 people dead and 101 injured and hospitalised in eight hospitals.

However, the State Deputy Governor, Engr. Benson Abounu, said the death toll had hit 48 after his visit to all eight hospitals where the victims were receiving treatment. He worried that the degree of burns was very alarming, stressing that the cases varied between 30 and 90 percent degree burns and cutting across all ages with the youngest being a nine year-old in Alaide hospital and an 11-year-old hospitalised at FMC, Makurdi.

Abounu blamed the tragedy on the driver of the commercial bus which he said travelled from Cross River State and was headed towards Abuja with passengers, mainly family members who went to bury their father, when the incident happened. He said the state government decided to give mass burial to the victims burnt beyond recognition in the village where the incident happened while those whose relations could identify them were taken away by their families for.

Our correspondent reports that 30 corpses burnt beyond recognition were on Wednesday interred in the mass grave.

Meanwhile, the deputy governor, who said the many potholes on the Makurdi – Aliade – Otukpo road might have also contributed to the tanker accident has called on the federal government to speed up the rehabilitation of the road, which seems to have stopped.

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