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Onitsha explosion victims struggle to pick up pieces

Following Wednesday’s tragic tanker explosion at upper Iweka and Ochanja markets in Onitsha, many traders have now been left destitute, trying to pick up pieces…

Following Wednesday’s tragic tanker explosion at upper Iweka and Ochanja markets in Onitsha, many traders have now been left destitute, trying to pick up pieces of their lives. Daily Trust reports.

 

The October 16 tragedy in Onitsha that claimed many lives, including a mother and her child, and destroyed property worth millions after a petrol- loaded tanker toppled over and spilled its content has left many people broken and lost.

People who spoke with Daily Trust decried how some traders died in their shops while people stood by and recorded their deaths on their phones.

Dejected Ochanja traders mourning their losses

Chairman of Ochanja Central Market, Mr. Nelson Ojukwu said they were able to limit the fire to just five shops in the section because they were able to mobilise water tankers to tackle the inferno.

Ojukwu said if the state government had provided a fire station around the area, the situation would not have been so bad.

Ikechukwu Moghalu, a spare parts dealer, who specialises in batteries, at the Upper Iweka, Onitsha said he had just taken delivery of goods worth of N10 million on Monday, two days before the disaster.

On the fateful day, he had gone out to buy something only to receive a call that his shop had been burnt down completely.

Similarly, Sunday Okonkwo, a dealer in Volkswagen parts at Upper Iweka, said the fire burnt both his parking store and shop, leaving him with nothing to take care of his family, including his pregnant wife who may have a baby at any moment.

“What hurts me most was that during the fire, we thought the fire service would come to help us but we didn’t see them until the fire had gutted our goods. They came after over two or three hours,” he said.

Chairman of Upper Iweka spare parts dealers Paul Olisa said that the plaza lost over N100 million in the disaster.

“We know that government can assist us to overcome these challenges and we are begging them to help us,” he appealed.

It is not only the big dealers who are complaining. Miss Ifeoma Ochiabuto sold engine oil on a table at the market. Her investment was about N170,000 which she lost in the disaster. She has nothing to fall back on.

Perhaps the most tragic story of the fire disaster was that of a woman identified as Ifeoma, whose charred remains along with her child were discovered in the aftermath of the fire.

Chief Ben Mbaenyi, a neighbour to Ifeoma said, when she wanted to escape from the shop with her son, she fell into the gutter and the blazing fire consumed them both.

He said, most of the other shop owners fled the moment they saw the gas spilling but that Ifeoma, who sold plastic, did not follow immediately.

Government’s response to the fire has received knocks from traders and community leaders. President-General of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who visited the scene on Friday, faulted the response of government agencies.

“One would have expected that the fire service, ministry of works and other government agencies would have been here now so that buildings that are damaged, and are likely to collapse, are cordoned off with ribbons so that we do not have other causalities. I am disappointed more also that some people who are paid to do their duties are not doing them,” he said.

He however commended the Delta State fire service for its magnanimity in saving the situation that would have consumed the entire market.

“It is a shame to government that they did not provide enough firefighting equipment to Onitsha market despite the huge revenue the commercial city is putting into the state government’s coffers.

“It is my sincere hope and prayer that this tragic incident will be the last of its kind. My prayers and thoughts are with the traders and families affected by this tragedy. May God Almighty receive the souls of all those who died in the incident and grant the bereaved the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss,” he said.

When the Daily Trust visited Toronto Hospital to see some of the victims, the Chief Medical Director, Dr. Emeka Eze, said only two victims were admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital.

“So far, they are making slow progress. We hope they will continue to improve by His grace,” he said.

Chairman of the Nigeria Red Cross Society, Anambra State, Prof. Peter Katchy,   said relatives of some of the dead have started making contact with state government for compensation.

He also added the Red Cross is considering setting up a help desk for people whose relatives might have been involved in the tragedy.

 

Hell Fire

At the Ochanja market,  about four buildings filled with plastic materials, ranging from flip-flops to sleeping mats, plastics chairs and other inflammable goods were still on fire on Friday evening, two days after the incident.

The financial secretary of   plazas in Ochanja, Mr Chinedu Odiri said that four plazas were destroyed by the inferno, which started from Upper Iweka.

He also stated that they lost three person and goods worth billions of Naira. One of the victims was a trader who ran into his shop to save his N10 million. He never came out.

“The man deals in currencies. He used to do PAGA and POS business, he normally had much money in his office,” he said.

The other victims he said were a sales woman and one other person at the Ochanja market Plaza.

“I have not recovered from the trauma that came with it. Whenever I see a tanker passing now, I always feel like there is going to be another explosion. The whole thing can be compared to hell fire,” he said.

The Federal lawmaker representing Anambra East/West federal constituency, Chinedu Obidigwe, said collaboration of the governments, relevant stakeholders and the citizens is needed to develop a proactive strategy that would forestall further occurrence of such tragedies.

“This is a time for us to show faith in our state and rally around the victims of the carnage. I call on all Ndi Anambra to come to the aid of the victims and collectively give them support to rebuild their businesses and overcome the grief. It’s indeed a troubling time and we have to show that brotherly spirit and love that make us Ndi Anambra at this time,” he said.

Daily Trust gathered that in the last five years there have been major tanker fires that have claimed many lives and property.

At the same Upper Iweka market, more than 69 persons were burnt to death in a tanker explosion on May 31, 2015.

On February 15, 2017, another petrol tanker crashed into a filling station at DMGS Roundabout, Onitsha at around 7pm spilling its contents into the station and the adjourning streets also killing many people in the ensuing inferno.

Few months back, another tanker laden with diesel also crashed into the Abuja Park of the same Upper Iweka axis. Though the liquid contents did not go up in flames, many died from the accident while several vehicles were damaged.

Daily Trust findings revealed that the manpower of the State Fire Service has been depleted without replacement over the years.

Meanwhile, the state government has constituted an assistance panel headed by the deputy governor, Dr. Nkem Okeke to look into the losses and how to assist the victims.

Also Governor Willy Obiano directed his special assistant on creative security, retired AVM Ben ChiObi to take over the operations of the state fire service. For many of the victims, this is coming a little too late.

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