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Benue Tanker Explosion: When Death Came Calling

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On Monday, July 2, 2019, the serenity ofAhumbe village in Gwer local government area of Benue state was shattered by a tanker fire accident, which led to the death of over 50 people and more than 100 others injured. HEMBADOON ORSAR writes.

Charred bodies, carcasses of vehicles, burnt containers of different sizes for scooping fuel, half-destroyedpersonal effects of dead travellers and other items belonging to the villagers,littered the scene.

Houses reduced to ruins, with burnt roofs and crumbled walls close to scene remind one that something unusual has happened.

A few metres from the areawere scores of villagers, wailing and heaping curses and blames on the authorities for neglecting the highway, particularly the section where the disaster occurred.

This isAhumbe village in Gwer local government area of Benue State where a tanker conveying Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) also known as petrol, while attempting to dodge a pothole,fell into a ditch last Tuesday.

As the content of the tanker spilled on the road ad into the bush, the news spread into the nearby community that fortune had smiled on the poor villagers. In droves, they rushed to the spot with various containers to scoop the product.

And just when their activities was getting to a peak, the unexpected and unwanted happened: A bus returning from a burial ceremony with full load of passengers surfaced and all events to stop the driver from going ahead with his journey failed.

As he drove passed the tanker lying in the ditch, with fuel still gushing out from it, the exhaust pipe hit the hard surface of the tarred road, sparked off fire near the petrol-laden truck. Instantly, there was an explosion– the bus and the tanker- caught fire, which spread to other vehicles that had parked on the road, waiting for the truck to be emptied before continuing with their journey.

In a twinkle of an eye, scores of villagers scooping fuel and commuters waiting for normalcy to return following the confusion caused by the residents’ siege to the area, were all burnt, with some of the victims dying on the spot.

A resident, who witnessed the disaster told LEADERSHIP Weekend that when “the tanker fell off the road, it was the attitude and impatience of one of the drivers of a 14-seated bus conveying passengers from Cross River who came from Abuja to bury a relation that caused the accident. All our efforts to stop the driver as other vehicles were forced to park fell on deaf ears.As he meandered his way through the parking lane, the exhaust pipe crushed on the tarred road which sparked off the fire causing an explosion that in some cases wiped away whole families and other commuters.”

One of the relations of a victim of the inferno who was rushed to the Air Force Hospital, Makurdi, Philip Yongo, blamed the accident on the numerous potholes and the impatience of most Nigerian motorists while travelling on the nation’s roads that he described as not better than death traps.

Yongo said: “I came here with two of my siblings who were burntin the tanker inferno. The accident was caused by a pothole which the tanker driver attempted to avoid but he lost control of the vehicle loaded with fuel and crashed into the nearby ditch.”

His two brothers,TerfaYongo and TerteseAnongo, were seen lying lifeless at one of the hospital visited.

Similarly, MngusonunWasem, Abigail Anura, and Samuel Iortsuam, whose relations were affected by the road mishap,blamed in on the poor state of federal roads.

The family of Shimave and his wife, Ape wept bitterly over the death of their 24-year-old son, Pius, a secondary school graduate from Government Day Secondary School, Aliade. They said that the late Pius was an Okada rider and had carried a passenger from Aliade town to JatoDaura where he met his Waterloo.

David from Mbabugh in Gwercouncil said that he also lost his 15-year-old brother,SesughAbata, who was returning from school and got caught up in the explosion.

Also, Godwin Ayenge said that he lost his 16-year-old brother, SS2 student of Mbabugh Community Secondary School, who was on his way back from school.

Rev. Fr. Jacob Aku, a relation of another victim, Solomon Ka, said that his nephew, a township bus driver was conveying passengers when his vehicle got trapped in the inferno.

Aku, who is in charge of St. Augustine Catholic Mission, Makurdi, added that many persons in the vehicle died.

He said:”Ka was earlier admitted at Bishop Murray Hospital where we were told that his condition was very critical and was referred to BSUTH. Even here, we were told by the doctors that he may not survive and would have to be transferred to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu.”

For shattered EzeOkoro, Jessica Shie, and Vandelun Silas, politicians and governments at all level must stop paying lip service to the wellbeing of the people. They appealed to those in public offices to use thecurrent tanker explosion to deliver on their campaign promises of good roads, provision of quality healthcare facilities and services, good schools among othersfor the people to avoid God’s wrath.

They particularly accused the state government of failing to sensitise the people on the dangers of scooping fuel following the losses caused by a similar incident in Gbatse in Ushongo local government area last year when a tanker crashed and the villagers trooped to scoop the spilled product.

In that incident, a police officer shot into the air in an attempt to disperse the crowd. The bullet triggered a fire outbreak with the tanker exploding and killing scores of villagers in the area.

In the Ahumbedisaster, over 50 people mostly villagers who came out to scoop fuel alongside the stranded commuters on the roadsidewere killed while over 100 others suffered various degrees of burns. Officials said that the death toll could be higher.

The information officer ofGwer East council, Christopher Avi, confirmed to LEADERSHIP Weekend that over 50 persons were burnt to death,with 26 of them identified by their relations as natives of Ahumbe.

Avisaid that all the victims were buried in a mass grave. He said that some of the houses around the area were also razedin the explosion.

The Benue State government through the Deputy Governor Benson Abounu on Tuesday visited some of the survivors receiving treatment in Gwercouncil.

In continuation of the visit, the Abounuwas at different hospitals in Makurdi, the state capital the next day.

Abounusaid that the state government has decided to conduct mass burial for some of the victims because most of them were burnt beyond recognition and their relations could not identify them. He said that if there were family members who can identify their deceased relations thestate government would allow them to give the victims befitting burials.

The deputy governor, who expressed concern over the high degrees of burns sustained by the victims said, the range, according to medical reports, was between 30 and 90 degrees, with most of them struggling for survival.

He said: “I am afraid to say that the degrees of burns that I have seen in the various hospitals visited are alarming. Alarming in the sense that we are dealing with between 30and90 degrees of burns and only God can remedy their situation, but as humans, we will do our best to ensure their survival.

“In one particular case, we have 90 degrees and the person is still struggling with life at the teaching hospital.

“Unfortunately, the situation cut across all ages. The least one I have seen is a nine-year-old who is being treated in Aliade and 11-year-old also caught in the inferno who is receiving treatment at the Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi.

“Also a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member from Ogun State, who was in a different vehicle but out of youthful exuberance, came out to take pictures of the accident, was also burnt in the second explosion. However, she is responding to treatment in the hospital,” Abounu said.

As at Wednesday, the deputy governor said that 48 persons had died from the inferno,an additional12 additional deaths were later recorded.

According to him, over 90 persons were still receiving treatment in some hospitals in Aliade and Makurdi.

The sector commander of theFederal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Baba Aliyu,said that so far, the number of casualties hadrisen to 101even as he said his men stayed all night evacuating the victims to eight hospitals in Makurdiand Gwer.

Aliyu said that two fire fightersand two social media reporters who were taking pictures at the scene of the incident were among the injured.

LEADERSHIPlearnt that most of the victims were receiving treatment at the General Hospital, Aliade, St. Vincent Hospital, Aliade,Justin Dispensary,Aliade,HossanaClinic,Aliade, Air Force Hospital, Makurdi, Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Apir, Bishop Murray Catholic Hospital,Makurdi, and Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH).

When our correspondent visited BSUTH, FRSC officials were still bringing victims whose cases were severe, while relatives came with others.

The chief medical director,TerrumunSwende, lamented that the degrees of burns were serious with the least persons having over 75 degrees.

There are no exact figures of the death toll because the chances of survival of the victims are slim as some are still dying at the various hospitals they were rushed to.

Swende, however, said that BSUTH had made adequate arrangement to treat the injured persons, intimating that doctors from the epidemiology unit of the state Ministry of Health as well as members of the Doctors WithoutBorders,were assisting them in the resuscitation of the victim. He added that the hospital had set up an Emergency Response Unit made up of plastic and general surgeons to help out.

According to him, “we are deploying all resources and contacts available to salvage the situation

Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom has lamented over the tanker fire explosion which claimed scores of lives describing it as painful and devastating.

In a press statement by his Chief Press Secretary TerverAkase, the Governor said he is deeply saddened by the loss of many lives in the petrol tanker fire, saying only God can console the families whose relations were engulfed in the inferno, and prayed God to grant the dead eternal rest.

Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom assured that survivors that the state government would assist in settling their medical bills.

On its part, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),has donated drugs and other medical consumables to BSUTH for the treatment of survivors.

ICRCalso pledged to foot the medical bills of the survivorswho are receiving treatment in the hospital.

The medical items, which the group donated yesterday to the hospital,included consumables, medications and dressings to facilitate the treatment of the victims.

The ICRC health coordinator for Jos sub-delegation covering seven states, including Benue, Dr.BonnixKayabu, said that the organisation fond it expediently necessary to assist in the treatment of the victims of the fuel tanker explosion.

Kayabusympathised with the government and people of the state as well as the families of those who lost their loved ones and charged the management of the hospital to make judicious use of the items.

Receiving the items, Abounu (deputy governor) commended the ICRC for assisting and complementing the state’s efforts in the treatment of the survivors of major burns who are in critical conditions in the hospital.

Abounu who represented by the permanent secretary in the ministry of finance, Mr. Mathew Uyina, commended the ICRC for taking the responsibility to pay the medical bills of the victims with cases of major burns being managed by BSUTH and for also accepting to cater for their feeding.

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