Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja and Chiemelie Ezeobi
Eight years after a massive tanker explosion at the Otedola Bridge area of Ojodu-Berger in Lagos, which claimed 15 lives, a similar explosion at the same area Thursday killed no fewer than nine persons and burnt 54 vehicles, including a tricycle.
The accident attracted the immediate attention of President Muhammadu Buhari Thursday night, expressing shock and asking the victims to take heart.
The Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, also had soothing words for the victims Thursday, saying everything would be done to ameliorate their pains.
According to his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, the president, in reaction to the early reports reaching him concerning the incident Thursday night, said he was very sad to learn of the tragic loss of lives, tens of vehicles, property and other valuables in the petrol tanker fire.
Shehu said the president expressed his deepest condolences to the government and people of Lagos State on this tragedy, quoting him as saying: “Sadly, this seems to be one of the greatest tragedies we have seen in recent times.”
The statement also said the president urged the emergency services and law enforcement officials to do their best to limit the losses and damage from the incident, saying the priority now should be to save those who may still be in danger.
The August 2010 tanker explosion that claimed 15 persons, including an infant, had also inflicted 18 others with varying degree of injuries and 20 cars burnt beyond repairs.
At the scene of Thursday explosion, pandemonium was the order of the day after the tanker, which was fully laden with petrol, exploded and engulfed virtually all the vehicles around it as well as some of their occupants.
While nine bodies were recovered as at press time, several others with various degrees of injury were also rescued and taken to the Accident and Emergency Centre for treatment.
Some of the injured persons, who experienced third degree burns, were given first aid treatment before they were rushed to the accident centre in the state.
It was further gathered that the casualty figure was high because of the huge vehicular traffic on the bridge before the explosion occurred.
According to an eyewitness account, the tanker fell while manoeuvring the bridge, thus spilling its content on the road.
Although some motorists who were near the fallen tanker succeeded in fleeing before the explosion occurred, some others were not fortunate.
A witness, Samson Ojo, told THISDAY: “I was driving inwards Lagos from Berger and was approaching the Otedola Bridge when the explosion occurred.
“My first emotion was sheer panic as the entire area shook as ball of flame erupted into the sky somewhere down the road. Like other motorists, I parked and came out to observe what happened.
“When some of us bravely made our way down, we saw people fleeing from their cars as the fire was escalating. The screaming of those in pain is not something I will forget in a hurry.
“We tried to do the little we could do to help put out the flames but nothing worked until the fire service trucks came and started dousing the flames from one vehicle to another.”
Another eyewitness, Kehinde Osamor, said the casualty figure was less because people abandoned their vehicles and escaped the inferno.
He said: “We were all trying to navigate the bridge when this same tanker driver tried to climb it. We don’t know what happened but he suddenly started rolling back.
“Our immediate thought was to ensure he didn’t roll over any of us and surprisingly, the tanker fell sideways and its content started spilling on the road.
“Some of us immediately left our cars and ran. Some people stayed put. The next thing we heard was an explosion and some vehicles caught fire. It was a race of the fittest.”
Once the news filtered into town, emergency agencies, including the Rapid Response Squad (RRS), the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Lagos State Ambulance Services (LASAMBUS), Lagos Fire Service, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and other secondary responders immediately arrived at the scene.
While the emergency responders set out to rescue as many as they could, they literally picked up some of the dead bodies of the deceased persons, who had attempted to flee, on the ground.
According to the emergency workers, one of the major challenges they had was the issue of crowd control, â€œas the teeming crowd made rescue work extremely difficult”.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one of the emergency workers said: “So instead of carrying out rescue operations and saving lives, we were forced to try to disperse the crowd first.
“Although some of them genuinely wanted to help, others were more concerned about taking pictures, while there were yet those who came to scavenge among the dead.
“It took the combined effort of the police from the division and the RRS to get a semblance of sanity before we swung into proper rescue work.”
The accident made traffic to spill over from the bridge down to the Third Mainland Bridge; Oshodi expressway and even major parts of Ikeja and Airport Road.
When contacted, the RRS Commander, Olatunji Disu, confirmed the incident, adding that preliminary investigation revealed that the tanker had difficulty in driving up the bridge.
Although he declined to give statistics on the casualty figure, he said several persons were injured and others dead.
Also, the General Manager of LASEMA, Adesina Tiamiyu, said the tanker was exiting Lagos when the driver lost control and fell on the bridge.
According to him, “The content spilled and it exploded. All the vehicles behind it caught fire and exacerbated the explosion.
“We got the distress call at our command centre and quickly deployed to the scene. In collaboration with other emergency workers, we succeeded in rescuing four injured persons.
“While two out of the four were critically injured, the other two who were also injured received first aid treatment from LASAMBUS before they were rushed to the Accident and Emergency Centre along that axis to stabilise them.”
While the injured were given first aid treatment before they were rushed to the hospital, the bodies of the deceased persons were taken to the morgue.
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government has commiserated with families of victims who lost their lives and property in the explosion.
The government, in a statement signed by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, described the incident as a sad development, saying that the incident was most unfortunate and regrettable.
â€œOn behalf of the Lagos State Government, we extend our deepest commiseration to the families of persons who lost their lives as well as properties to the incident. Our thoughts and prayers are with them in this time of pain and grief.
â€œAs a government, we would not relent in putting measures in place to ensure safety of lives and property of all residents,â€ Bamigbetan said.
The commissioner said that Governor Ambode has directed all relevant agencies to move into the area to normalise the apprehension that had taken over the area and to also ensure that those in need are adequately taken care of.
The governor assured the people that clearing of the highway of damaged vehicles to establish normal traffic flow would continue throughout the night until the objective is achieved.
He called for the co-operation of all citizens with the officials of the agencies to restore the situation to normalcy.
He also urged motorists to continue to adhere to the safety standard and the state traffic laws so as to prevent a reoccurrence of such incidents.