The fire incident, according to eyewitnesses’ accounts occurred when a vessel was supplying Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), also known as petrol to two of the tank farms around 2:00 a.m.
Sources at the scene of the incident attributed the disaster to the activities of illegal oil thieves who were siphoning petrol from one of the facilities of one of the tank farms located in the area.
Eyewitnesses claimed that some workers in one of the tank farms had connected a valve to the pipe supplying the fuel in an attempt to siphon the product while the vessel was discharging.
But luck however, ran against them as the pressure from the spot they punctured became so unmanageable and knocked them. The fuel latter flowed to other parts before getting in contact with fire.
Speaking with Sunday Sun, one of the victims, Pastor Okon Eyo Bassey, who described his survival as miraculous despite getting caught right in middle of the raging inferno said he could not explain how and where the fire started from.
Narrating his ordeals from his hospital bed, the father of three said: “On Sunday morning around 4:00am I was going for evangelism with some of my colleagues to Esuk Utan beach where we have an assembly and I happen to be the leader. We normally go there in the morning to arrange the church and then go back and prepare for Sunday worship.
“As we were going I saw people with drums and I thought may be a truck had fallen again. I passed the first gate and at second gate there was nobody and I knocked at the gate before the gate man came and opened the gate. As I entered I discovered that everybody was busy. As I drove on my car engine went off suddenly.
“And I wondered what might have happened because I remembered I put 10 litres of fuel before leaving home. I tried again to start the car but it didn’t respond so I told my brother that this was not an ordinary thing.
“So, I suggested we park the car and walk down. As we tried to push the car to one side, I saw fire on the roof of the car from nowhere and before we knew it, it was all over us. I quickly opened the car and we all ran out. And as we were running, the fire kept following us. At a point I found myself in the middle of the fire.
“At that point I began to ask God why he chose to disgrace us like this on the road,”
Explaining further he said: “At point I shouted for help with none coming. But God showed that He was with me because even when the fire engulfed me, my cloth did not burn and even my car didn’t burn too. It was the heat from the fire that affected me badly. At the end I managed to escape.
“But I could still recall how the fire caught over one hundred drums lined up along that second gate. I can tell you that many people died. Some persons were thrown into the river.
“So that I survived is a miracle because I had already seen hell before I suddenly came out alive. And for those of us who survived we want to plead with government and philanthropists as well as corporate bodies to come to our aid because we don’t have money to foot the hospital bills.”
Another victim, who sustained higher degree of burns, Musa Abdulahi, told Sunday Sun correspondent that he could not explain how he found himself at the hospital just as he claimed he could not recall how the inferno began.
“I don’t know how I managed to get here. I cannot explain what happened apart from the fact that I was at the depot and then a tank exploded.”
Abdulahi, who managed to talk, expressed appreciation to Allah for keeping him alive and prayed for quick recovery to be able to reunite with his family members just as he called on the government to help pay his hospital bills.
Also speaking, another victim who identified himself as Ibrahim said he was looking up to God for survival and appealed to concerned individuals to come to his aid.
According to him, “I just can’t say what caused the fire outbreak. But I went for the normal morning business only to see myself in the hospital later. I didn’t know I was still alive because I just saw fire all over, roasting people. I thought I had died. But thank Allah for his mercies.”
Equally thanking God on behalf of her husband, Mrs. Bassey Okon, said: “When the incident happened I saw people running out of their houses and rushing to the depot. I wasn’t bothered because my husband just left the house.
“However, I decided to go to the depot side to find out if my husband had already crossed the road before the explosion. But I could not pass the road because of the fire. So I asked people if they had seen him pass but nobody could give me an answer.
“After a while I collected one of our neighbour’s mobile phone to call my husband line but it rang out without anybody picking. Then I called my phone which I left at home and my daughter picked only to break the news to me that the fire had burnt her daddy. I said no, it’s not true because I was at the junction.”
In an emotion laden tone, she said: “But on getting home I saw my daughter crying with the landlord bringing back his phone, the torch he uses to preach, his footwear and Bible. And that they saw his car but didn’t see him. So at that time I was shocked and slumped.
“Around 12 noon somebody called me that he was rushed to UCTH and we went there and met him unconscious. But as at Monday he had regained consciousness and was responding to treatments.
“When I saw him in this condition, I was completely down, I cried all through that Sunday praying to God to spare his life. But all the same I thank my church members who have been coming around and assisting in buying drugs.”
Another relation of one of the victims, Ms Rosemary Edem, decried the spate of explosions in Calabar this year and called on federal government to designate UCTH as a special centre to cater for all the victims of the disasters.
Ms Edem, who commended the management of UCTH for their prompt action, enjoined stakeholders to come to the aid of the victims as drugs are very expensive and beyond the reach of most of the victims.
Also appealing for support to take care of the victims, the Chief Medical Director, University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCHT), Prof. Thomas Agan said so far 11 of the victims had died while seven persons were currently receiving treatments at the `burns ward’ of the hospital.
“The challenge we have is that they were brought in as prescribed by the federal government. We had to use all we had to ensure that they are kept alive. Our consumables are totally exhausted,” he said.
According to him, having patients with 60-90 per cent burns was not an easy thing.
Agan said “We need massive assistance, not only from the federal government, but from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and all the facilities involved in this matter because the victims are peasant farmers, traders and jobless.
“This is a national disaster so we expect both state and federal governments to come in here and help. We are looking for help from anywhere because the victims have very severe burns. And one of things that make patients to succumb is infections. So we need drugs and consumables to carry out dressing of these wounds.”
Agreeing with the suggestions that UCTH be designated a Special Centre, the CMD said the hospital is bounded by Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea as well as by four states of Akwa Ibom, Abia, Ebonyi and Benue and have been overstretched in an attempt to render services.
He also said due to increase in communicable and non-communicable diseases, there was a need to upgrade the hospital to take care of all these, adding that the hospital had highly trained manpower to manage patients and victims.
On how to curb incessant fire incidents, he said: “There is need to organise enlightenment programme by government and non-governmental organisations for the community and entire public on behavioural changes; these challenges may not abate.
“There must be individual and collective attitudinal change towards our health matters as this would help to prevent this kind of disasters. Some of these incidents are preventable.”
The Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mrs. RoseMary Effiom Archibong on behalf of the State Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, while condoling with the families of victims of the explosion and other recent fire incidents in the state, lamented that several lives had been lost within the period.
The Information and Orientation boss urged all residents in the state to think safety always and prevent activities that are capable of igniting fire, noting that every life is important.
She called on Cross Riverians to desist from building directly under high tension cables and avoid bunkering, pointing out that most fire outbreaks are due to man-made errors.
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