An early Sunday morning petroleum tanker fire has claimed scores of lives in the Koko area of Delta State, casting gloom on Nigeria’s 63rd Independence celebration. The state governor, Sheriff Oborevwori, in a press statement, has sympathised with families of the victims, while at the same time advising against “the dangerous act of scooping fuel from a fallen tanker because of the highly inflammable nature of the product”.
Though there are conflicting casualty figures, TELL gathered that no fewer than 50 persons must have died in the conflagration from the tanker explosion around Koko junction along the Benin – Warri highway, as people trooped out in their numbers to scoop the spilled premium motor spirit, PMS (petrol).
It is suspected that a spark from a faulty vehicle, or clinking of metal containers, could have ignited the fire. Victims were said to have included elderly men and women, children, as well as pregnant women. Apart from the fuel scavengers, some innocent commuters were also reportedly trapped in the raging inferno. After the fire had been put under control, several charred, unrecognizable bodies, as well as burnt vehicles littered the scene.
According to an eyewitness, efforts by some drivers, as well as security men who arrived the scene on getting information about the fallen tanker, to prevent the villagers from scooping the product were resisted before tragedy struck.
According to the eyewitness who simply identified himself as Yusuf, “We tried to prevent them, but the youths threatened to beat us up telling us it’s their community. They came in their numbers carrying all sorts of containers and when the explosion happened around 12:15 am this morning, we all fled.
“You can see dead bodies on the ground. Some of them ran into the forest. As I speak, some dead bodies have been removed. I counted over 20 bodies”. It is believed that some may have died inside the swamp where they ran to in an attempt to escape the inferno which had engulfed the area.
Reacting to the tragic incident Sunday evening, Governor Oborevwori, in a statement by his chief press secretary, Festus Ahon, disclosed that the State Emergency Management Agency, led by the Commissioner for Special Duties, Ejiro Terry, was already at the scene to provide help and support for the victims. Blaming the unfortunate incident on the poor state of federal roads, the governor reiterated his call on the federal government to expedite action in reconstructing failed portions of the road.
He lamented the harrowing experiences that citizens of the state and commuters encounter while navigating the road and called on the authorities to, as a matter of utmost importance and urgency, fix the road to avoid further incidents like this. Warning the people against taking the risk of attempting to scoop fuel from a fallen tanker, he stated that it was a time bomb waiting to explode.
The statement reads: “In the early hours of today, we got information that an explosion occurred at Koko junction along the Warri-Benin expressway. On behalf of the government and people of Delta State, I commiserate with families of the victims who lost their lives to the inferno. This sad and unfortunate incident would have been avoided if the Federal Government had lived up to their responsibility of maintaining their roads.
“While I mourn the deceased, I use this medium to reiterate my earlier call on the Federal Government to save the lives of our people from these harrowing experiences. I also use this medium to advise our people to refrain from the dangerous act of scooping fuel from a fallen tanker because of the highly inflammable nature of the product”.