Traders with shops along Amawbia/Nibo road, near Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of Anambra State are currently reeling in pain over their losses, after a tanker, laden with petroleum product, burst into flames close to their trading stores.
The nightmare started early Saturday night when the tanker, while trying to negotiate a bend at the Amawbia roundabout, fell and immediately ignited a fire.
According to a security officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the tanker driver on high speed beat the traffic light leading to Amawbia by-pass junction; tried to navigate a bend at the roundabout; but fell, spilling the petroleum content.
His words: “It is possible that the vehicle’s brake failed because it was on high speed and the driver beat the traffic light where we were. It was quite scary. Then shortly after that, we heard a loud bang, and then a huge fire followed. We rushed to the scene to behold unprecedented fire that engulfed almost all the shops in that area.”
The source said that most of the casualties were Hausa people selling suya.
Speaking with reporters yesterday, the leader of the Hausa community in Amawbia, whose subjects were mostly affected by the fire, Alhaji Mahmood Sani, confirmed that five of his subjects died in the fire while one person is missing.
He said: “The incident happened in front of our resident where we do business and most of them sell suya and food items. Some sell other goods. We have been there for decades in Amawbia.
“We are lucky to have evacuated women and children so it only affected our men.
“As I speak to you, five persons have died and one person is missing. Those injured are at Nwalusi private hospital and others are at Amaku general hospital and Regina Celia hospital in Awka.”
According to him, about N6 million worth of property and goods belonging to the traders were lost in the inferno.
Sani appealed to the state government and public-spirited individuals to come to their assistance.
At least 18 shops selling different wares like drinks, beverages, clothes, bread, electronic accessories, etc, were burnt beyond remedy.
When News Express visited the scene on Sunday, sympathisers were seen trooping to the place, while few of the burnt shop owners were also seen lamenting their loss.
Chukuwemeka Okoye, whose father owned a shop that sold beverages and bread in the area, said his mother could not bear the loss; hence she couldn’t come out to behold the scene. While thanking God for sparing their lives, he said that their family’s daily bread depended on the proceeds from the shop.
“This is the shop that we feed from, the school fees of my sister who is a student of Oko Polytechnic, is made from here as well as myself,” he lamented.
Okoye called on the State Government to come to their aid so as to rebuild their lives.
On her part, a seller of second-hand clothes who refused to give her name said: “My sister, I don’t know what to say. You have seen for yourself the misfortune that met us today. Where do I start from here?”
Burnt loaves of bread were seen as originally displayed on the table. Also, cartons of drinks and a burnt freezer were seen at another shop.
Ironically, a nearby petrol station and two shops close to it were not touched in any way by the fire but, a five-storey building which almost caught fire was quickly saved by men of the state fire service.
Traders were said to have abandoned their shops and goods and ran for their lives when the fire started.
Also affected by the inferno is the building of the Anambra State Fire Service as well as the security post of the Anambra State Governor’s Lodge in Amawbia and the trees planted along the road to the lodge.
Officers and men of Anambra Police Command were deployed to ensure that hoodlums did not capitalise on the situation to loot people’s property
It was also gathered that when the when the tanker hit the roundabout, the front section allegedly broke off and the driver zoomed off with it.
The State Police Public Relations Officer, (SPPRO), SP Haruna Mohammed, confirmed that seven people lost their lives in the inferno.
A statement he made available to journalists in Awka reads in part: “A tanker with registration number yet unknown, loaded with Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) while negotiating Amawbia roundabout at about 8:30pm on 9/2/2019 in Awka lost control and fell sideways. As a result, the tanker was engulfed by fire which affected many vehicles and shops in the area, thereby destroying properties worth millions of Naira.
“So far, a total number of seven corpses were certified dead at various hospitals by medical Doctors while the only surviving victim was referred to the University Teaching Hospital Nnewi and was admitted at the intensive care unit of the hospital.
“Out of the seven corpses confirmed dead, three are deposited at Amaku General Hospital morgue, two at Regina Caeli hospital and another two at Piston Hospital morgue for post mortem examination.”
Mohammed said investigation is still ongoing.