The viewing centre where the accident happened
It was something football lovers in Nyaghassang Community in Calabar Municipality of Cross River State had done hundreds of times before – watching football matches at a popular viewing centre along Access High School Road.
Little did they know that Thursday night, when Manchester United hosted Anderlecht in a return leg of the Europa League quarterfinal match, was going to turn out to be a great tragedy.
A high-tension cable which according to a Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) official, was the UNICAL 11KV Feeder, fell on the viewing centre electrocuting many of the passionate football lovers who were in the building at about 9.30pm. Initial reports put the casualty figure at over 30, but when a correspondent got to the scene of the incident, several eyewitnesses said the number of people that died on the spot ranged between seven and 10.
Chairman of the medical advisory committee of the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH), Dr Ogbu Ngim, who represented the Chief Medical Director, Dr Thomas Agan, said 18 persons with various degrees of burns were brought to the hospital. He said seven were confirmed dead, while the remaining 11 were responding to treatment.
It was observed that the viewing centre, constructed with zinc was located directly under the high-tension cable, just like many other buildings in the area. The cable fell on the building after an explosion from a transformer that was located nearby. It was estimated that the viewing centre could contain about 120 people.
It was gathered that while the match was on the there was a loud explosion from the transformer and the power went out and the cable landed on the roof of the viewing centre. Quite curiously it was gathered that those watching the game were aware of the cable that landed on the roof, but being so eager to continue their match and thinking there was no current in the cable as the power had gone out, urged the owner of the centre to put on his generator.
After the generator was put on they all went back inside to continue their match and then power was restored by PHEDC and the fire erupted in the building.
According to someone who was inside the centre, the building seemed to be vibrating. In the pandemonium that ensued as many made for the exit, several of them got electrocuted. “As their bodies kept touching the zinc which had live electricity running through it and people’s bodies kept rubbing on other bodies in the confusion that is how the problem escalated,” an eyewitness described
A young man who described himself as Innocent recounted, “I was inside the building when we heard the first explosion so some of us came outside and we saw the cable that had cut and fallen on the roof. In fact some people were passing under the cable as they were calling the owner of the viewing centre to put on the generator so that they can continue their match. When the generator was put on people went inside. What saved me was because I just stood outside waiting for the DSTV to finish loading. You know that DSTV normally takes time to load when it goes off. So I stood outside for some minutes and just as I was going inside to check if the match had restarted, I saw a close friend who was sitting in front of me, running out and his body touched the zinc wall and he fell to the ground. Before you know it people started running out in numbers, trying to get out of the door at the same time. That is how they were falling one after the other right in front of me. I saw my friend die before me and there was nothing I could do.
“When it had died down, people came around to help remove the bodies. They were just pulling bodies out like logs of wood. It was like hell fire. This is something that would traumatize me for the rest of my life. Those that did not rush out during the incident are the ones that were safe. For me I counted eight people that died on the spot and they were six men and two women. Thank God it did not happen on the day Barcelona played Juventus or the day Chelsea played Man United, because the placed would have been more jam-packed and the causalities would have been.”
Another young man who identified himself as Dominic said he had paid for the match and was watching when he got call from a friend to join him for a drink. “I had already paid my N50 and was watching the match. Then a friend of mine called me to join him at Doris O Hotel. So I left and joined him there. I even continued watching the match there. It was when I came back here that I saw the disaster that happened here. That call from my friend saved my life.”
Mr Chris Abang, who also would have been in the viewing centre said he was delayed by his wife. “I had just come back from Ogoja and was in a hurry to go and watch the match. I am a Man U fan. So I could not wait to go and watch match. But my wife insisted that I stayed back and have something to eat. So I decided to listen to her and when I finished eating and was on my way to the viewing centre the whole incident happened right in front of me. My wife’s delay saved my life that yesterday.”
But a certain Emmanuel Okon, who lost his life in the incident was not so lucky. According to his wife, Mary, being a Manchester United fan he left to watch the match despite her asking him to stay back and eat something.
Speaking between sobs, she said, “I was boiling rice for him and then he decided to go and watch the match. I told him to stay back and eat but he said I should come and meet him when it was ready. When the incident happened I went there to look for him and when I found him he was not moving. There were bodies lying on the floor everywhere. I carried him with the help of his nephew, but he was not responding. His body was cold. With the help of a neighbour who is a taxi man, we carried him to the hospital where we were told he was dead.”
The late Okon’s nephew Godswill Okon recounted in tears also, “That evening me and my uncle were just joking about the match. He is a Man U fan and I am a Chelsea fan. So we were playfully arguing and I told him Man U will lose. He said no way that they would win. So when it was time for the match, he called me to go with him and watch, but I felt somehow and decided not to go. Normally I would have been there to watch the game, but I suddenly did not feel too well. People were even surprised that I did not go to watch. While we were home that we heard and went out and I got there and saw my uncle dead. My uncle was a very loving and kind person. He was the one who was taking care of me. My school fees, accommodation, feeding, clothes, everything. I don’t know what I would do now he is gone. Who would come to our help?”
Spokesperson of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) John Onyi, they were yet to ascertain the level of casualties. “We are not here to apportion blame but to investigate. It was UNICAL 11KV Feeder that snapped at that junction and fell on top of the roof. The viewing centre was in PHEDC’s right of way. There should be at least a 12.5 metre gap away from the high-tension cable. But as you can see now there are buildings right under the high-tension cable. Our investigations would include who gave approvals for buildings to be constructed under high tension cables. But like I said, we are not here for blame. Our condolences go to families that have been affected. We appeal for calm,” he said.
Secretary of the Nyaghassang Qua Clan Council, Comrade Iso Basey Edim said it was unfair that the PHEDC did not bother to maintain their equipment, but were only interested in collecting money or disconnecting power. He urged that the government should do something about the situation.
Cross River Deputy Governor, Prof Ivara Esu, who visited the scene of the incident, commiserated with the victims and said the government would take care of the treatment of those affected by the incident. He said an investigation would be launched into the matter.
Cross River State governor, Prof Ben Ayade in a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Mr Christian Ita, ordered the setting up of a commission of inquiry on the viewing center tragedy.
Ayade, who also commiserated with the victims, described the incident as tragic and horrifying, said the state government will also offer assistance to the victims and their families. PLACE YOUR TEXT ADVERT BELOW:>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> How I TOTALLY Got Rid Of my POT BELLY,excess Fat and Overweight In just 2weeks.. Click HERE for Details.