At least two lives — a nursing mother and her baby — died while no fewer than forty multi-storey buildings as well as the UBA Plc along the Ochanja market area were razed along the Upper Iweka Road area of the commercial city of Onitsha late this afternoon when a fully loaded petrol tanker fall and burst into flames.
The consequential explosion threw the flaming products in different directions resulting in multiple fire on nearby buildings and shops, even as the burning highly flammable liquid flow down the street spreading more fire in its wake.
Hundreds of lock-up shops were completely gutted along the Iweka Road street-market leading to Ochanja and Menax markets.
An eye witness who gave his name as Chijioke Okoro said the sad event occurred “when a fully loaded tanker of Premium Motor Spirit which was descending from the Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Inosi Onira House roundabout end of the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway, apparently lost control from the front of the Eastern Academy Secondary School opposite Toronto Hospital Onitsha, and veered off from the fast lanes into the service lane.
In the confusion, the staggering fuel tank disengaged from the truck head splashing the petroleum product all over the area which consequently caught fire, while the vehicle exploded throwing more balls of fire in different directions. Commuters, on-lookers and other vehicles scampered for safety of their dear lives.
Because the location hosts the largest bus terminus in the city, about fifty commercial vehicles including private and government owned transport organizations like the Tracas owned by Anambra state Government, Peace mass Transit, Onitsha South Mass Transport companies, Luxury bus operators within the area were lucky as their vehicles, escaped the ensuing inferno by the whiskers. This was also as traders who sell and display different wares were also lucky to escape the sad incident.
Owners of buildings along the Iweka Road, adjoining the Ochanja and Menax Markets, shop owners and tenants were not as lucky as their buildings, residential quarters and shops were completely razed down.
Most of the children, the aged and sick who were trapped in the burning buildings were however rescued with minor bruises by youths who had to climbed up to three to four storey buildings before the fire completely engulfed the buildings.
Hours without response from Fire fighters
The sad incident which an eye witness said started at about 10am would have been controlled but no fire fighters from any part of Anambra state was on hand to save the situation.
It was learnt that none of the nearby Ogbaru Relief Market, Mgbuka Obosi market, Upper Iweka Market, Ochanja Market, Woliwo markets, Aluminum Profile and glass dealers markets or even the Head Bridge Foundry/Machine Tolls dealers, Pharmaceutical dealers or Electronics markets and others nearby had any functional fire engines to rise to the occasion.
Not even the Onitsha North or South Council areas, Nkpor New Parts/New Tires/Old Parts, etc had any functional fire engines that could save the day.
Sadly the state government announced its acquisition of state-of-the-art modern fire engines about two years ago when Gov Willie Obiano paid on the spot visit to the scene of a fire incident which consumed many offices, shops and residences at the Upper New market area by the Dennis Memorial Grammar School in the town occurred.
It was a sorry sight today as people helplessly looked on as their houses, shops, goods and flats got burnt down.
Angry determined youths to the rescue
But for the resilience, courage and determination of some residents especially youths, some elderly men and women including children trapped in the burning buildings multi-storey buildings lining up along Iweka road towards Ochanja Market would have burnt to death as smokes almost suffocated them before rescue came their way.
There was mild drama when two toilet escavators/drilling tankers on site were literally commandeered by the youths to use the faeces mixed with water they were conveying to dump sites to try put off the raging fires.
It was of little assistance however as the burning petroleum products raged persistently down towards the Ochanja market area.
The visible frustration forced the youths to start chanting anti-Anambra State Government and the ruling party in the state songs.
Their anger were fueled by the tears and wild lamentations by on-lookers who helplessly watched private homes, offices, shops, wares, etc go up in flames without any single fire service official or their equipment on hand to render help.
As the chanting of anti Anambra state government songs continued, a fire service vehicle said to have came from Asaba, Delta state appeared with water, but the angry youths who thought they came from Anambra state started stoning and destroying the wind screens and the driver and two occupants could not contain the attacks and quickly turned and ran for their lives.
With their departure, the seeming untiring youths started using manual collection of water with buckets from a bore hole on the street corner.
They were assisted by Pastor Francis Eze, of the Greater Grace and Fire Assembly, who owns a filling station Pillar Energy’s Limited.
He supplied them with fire extinguishers a detergents they used to mix with the water to help put off the fire which was moving and flowing with the burning petrol through the gutter.
In addition, some of the youths used buckets to scoop faeces splashed on the ground by toilet drilling tankers to put off the fire which was moving from the gutters to buildings.
It was indeed hectic controlling the surging crowd along Iweka Road towards Ochanja as the fire continued raging towards the market and the shops on the adjacent streets hence people started running in all directions for their lives.
It was at that point the woman and her baby were trapped, overwhelmed, choked and got completely burnt to death with her baby on her chest.
She had attempted to to jump out of her shop, but mistakenly slipped and fell into the gutter raging with fire and could not be rescued as the fire covered the whole place and people were said to be scared to go near.
Fears were high that more human casualties may be recorded following the number of buildings affected, and because of the closeness to each other along the Iweka Road leading to Ochanja Market axis.
The youths were still battling to prevent the fire from entering the popular Ochanja Main Market as that would be disastrous.