The deadly fuel tanker explosion that hit the Okogbe community in Rivers State has killed over 200 people, officials have said.
The Rivers State Comissioner for Health, Dr. Sampson Parker, who was at the gruesome scene of the accident said, “the corpses that I counted alone were over 200 and they have not finished counting. It is cremation; some were burnt to ashes.”
At least 50 more were injured in the explosion as well and are currently receiving treatment, many of them for 75 percent degree burns, at the Adoha General Hospital.
One survivor who spoke to the Punch likened the horrid accident to an earthquake.
“Many of them could not come out alive,” the panic-stricken survivor said.
He said his car was one of the many burnt in the explosion. He lives to tell the story because he abandoned his car and ran after the fuel tanker swerved into a ditch and overturned.
Despite the new figures, Dr. Kayode Olagunju, the state’s sector commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission, insists that the death toll remains at 95 persons who were killed when they went to the scene of the accident to scoop fuel.
He said the fatal accident, which occurred at about 6:30 a.m. on Thursday morning on East-West Road in Okogbe, destroyed three other vehicles and 34 motorbikes.
“People were scooping fuel from the fallen tanker when it (tanker) exploded. Ninety-three persons died on the spot, two died in the hospital while 18 persons were injured.”
However, residents of the area dispute the figure, putting the number of people killed at well above 200, and many of them women and children.
The fuel tanker had reportedly swerved into the ditch to avoid a head-on collision with another vehicle, as both tried to navigate the single lane traffic. The tanker laden with some 33,000 litters of fuel overturned and many residents rushed to it, armed with jerry cans and ready to scoop up fuel.
One such resident said he had just fetched his jerry can to join the hundreds in scooping up fuel when the explosion occurred.
“They were more than 100 that died. I was rushing to the place to fetch my own fuel when the thing exploded. The dead people were not just from our community alone, people from nearby communities such as Ayakama, Obolobo were involved. They all came to fetch fuel,” the resident who identified himself as Sunday said.
The road on which the accident occurred is reportedly under construction, forcing both lanes of traffic to merge and vie for one single lane of traffic.
According to an eyewitness, Mr. Segun Oluwatuyi, the tanker was about to hit a Toyota Camry car which had reportedly lost control after being hit by a Mitsubishi bus from the rear.
Oluwatuyi said the tanker swerved to avoid the impact.
He explained that the tanker fell into a nearby bush and the driver was able to escape without injury. The eyewitness said the tanker driver had warned residents against going to the accident site, but his warnings were largely unheeded.
According to him the explosion occurred a full half an hour after the tanker toppled into the ditch.
“Those who died were over 150 while about 65 other that were seriously injured were rushed to different hospitals,” the eyewitness speculated.
Spokesman for the governor of the oil rich state, Governor Rotimi Amaechi, has said the state’s leader is “completely devastated” by the event.
Despite being an oil rich region, many communities in the delta are impoverished.