The billowing smoke has subsided. One after the other, rescue workers are ruminating through the piles of debris in the forlorn hope that they could find bodies of victims or rescue others trapped in the aftermath of the fire caused by the explosion in a fireworks’ warehouse at the Jankara Market, Lagos.
The fire, which started at about 9.30am on Wednesday as people were preparing to enjoy the Boxing Day celebration, spread and razed over 12 other buildings. One person was burnt to death, while over 40 others suffered varying degrees of injury and the inferno destroyed about 20 vehicles.
The fire was said to have been triggered off by some passersby who accidentally threw in one of the lit fireworks into the warehouse.
However, a day after, the traders, who lost millions of naira worth of goods in the tragedy, have started to count their losses. Gradually, the traders are overcoming their shock and disbelief to face the reality that some of them might have to start from the scratch again.
Nearly all of them had a tale of woes to tell yesterday as they mulled over the step to take. While some lamented the loss of their capital, some others bemoaned their fate as they were trading with borrowed money.
Although the inferno had been put out, billows of smoke were still spiralling on thursday.
One of the victims, Mr. Ayodeji Olaniyi, told THISDAY that the fire and the resultant loss came as a rude shock to him, adding that he is yet to get over his shock because he borrowed money to stock up his shop for the Christmas season and all his goods were destroyed in the inferno.
He said: “I was at home when the call came that some buildings were on fire. While I was rushing to the Island, I did not want to believe that my shop was affected; but alas, it was.
“I lost all but as at now I cannot estimate the exact amount because all the goods in my shop were razed by the greedy fire. I don’t know how to start life again.
“I am depressed and frustrated. Imagine watching your life’s savings going down the drain and you are incapacitated to stop it. I have never felt this impotent in my life before.”
Another victim, Okey Ibeabuchi, said the fire took the traders by surprise.
“At first, we thought it was just a small fire that would soon be put out but we miscalculated as the fire spread under minutes.
“The fire service officials came prepared but it seemed as if the fire just intensified the more they poured water. They tried their best,” he stated
Mr. Ozokolie Sunday is in worst predicament. Prior to the fire, he owned four shops all stocked with electronic goods; but they were all gutted by the fire.
According to him, he nearly died from shock when the news got to him that all his four shops were razed in the fire.
“I was celebrating Boxing Day when news of the disaster filtered in. To say that I was shocked is to say the least. I lost goods worth over N15 million to the fire disaster.
“This is the most unfortunate incident in my life. If only I had not stocked my shops, my loss would have been less but with the Christmas season, I had gone shopping for goods with the hope to sell it off before the New Year,” he told THISDAY in an interview.
His loss, he said, was compounded by the fact that he had obtained a loan facility to purchase some of the electronics and he would have to repay the loan despite the loss.
Another electronics dealer, Praise Odiah, said he was able to recover some of his wares but lost them to hoodlums who had offered to help him take them to safety.
Some of the victims who were rushed to the General Hospital on Lagos Island for treatment yesterday called on the state government to come to their aid, claiming that the medical personnel abandoned them to their fate.
While some of the victims were left lying on the floor outside the hospital ward, others were allegedly not attended to following their inability to complete payment for treatment.
One of the victims identified as Jimoh Ahmed, said he was asked to go home without completing treatment because he could not pay the full cost of his treatment.
Contrary to speculations that over 20 buildings were razed by the fire, the General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Authority (LASEMA), Dr. Femi Okei-Osanyintolu, said only 12 were torched.
He further stated that out of the 12 buildings, only 10 of them were seriously affected by the flames while the other two were slightly burnt.
He said rescue efforts were ongoing to ensure stability in the area as well as guard against further storage of explosives.
He said: “Explosives or inflammable materials should not be stored in residential places. The inferno has been completely put out except for flames as a result of alkaline and inflammable items.
“We want to completely pull down the structures and check the debris to ensure the explosives are completely removed to prevent further explosions.”
A structural engineer with the Lagos State Material Testing Laboratory who pleaded for anonymity said the unit would carry out integrity tests on the remaining buildings in the area.
He said the tests were necessary in order to ascertain the stability and integrity of the building through the Pundit Lab Machine.
According to him, the machine will determine if there are structural defects and based on their findings, the government will then decide whether to demolish such structures or rehabilitate them.
“These tests are necessary because once a building collapses, there must be a vibration. So our job now is to ascertain whether the vibration left a lasting effect on the building,” he added.
Meanwhile, the state Commissioner for Home Affairs and Culture, Mr. Oyinlomo Danmole, who visited the scene yesterday, urged residents and traders to install fire extinguishers in their homes and shops to tackle fire outbreak.