By Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia
No fewer than 19 people were yesterday feared dead following an explosion that occurred at the Osisioma, Abia State axis of the petroleum products pipeline belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Eye witness account said that the explosion happened in the early hours of Friday and the victims included a nursing mother, three soldiers and dozens of others who were all burnt to death.
Several others were said to have sustained various degrees of burns and were rushed to hospitals where medical personnel were battling to save their lives.
The explosion was said to have occurred when NNPC pumped products through old and abandoned pipelines which security agencies understood were no longer used to transport products.
The state commandant of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Benito Eze confirmed that 19 burnt bodies were recovered by his men at the scene of the incident.
Abia State Police Command spokesman, Mr. Geoffrey Ogbonna said that the state command was aware of the ugly incident but added that he didn’t have details of what actually happened and the number of casualties.
He said that it was unfortunate that people did not heed the warning by police that people should not scoop petroleum products from ruptured pipelines because of the very high risk to life and property when explosion occurs.
There was great wailing at the scene as village folks trooped out to identify their loved ones who died in the fire incident. The identified bodies were quickly evacuated by relatives.
Like in past incidents, the pipeline fire was said to have been caused by pipeline vandals who in the process of scooping petroleum products from the damaged pipeline sparked the fire.
The scene of the sad incident is located on a spot between Umuaduru and Umuimo villages of Osisioma which is part of the network of pipeline running from Aba to Enugu.
At the scene, the tail tales of the explosion was still evident with burnt remains of victims, two motor cycles, four wheel barrows and iron buckets said to have been used by the pipeline vandals to scoop fuel from the ruptured pipeline.
Some soldiers who were seen at the explosion spot later left after recovering what looked like barrel of a gun, ostensibly belonging to one of the burnt soldiers.
According to sources, the nursing mother who was among the victims, had scoffed at the warning by husband not to go join those scooping fuel at the damaged pipeline because of the inherent danger.
In his account, a pipeline surveillance guard, Chuks Uzoechi whose family house was razed down said that the explosion occurred along the abandoned old pipeline that already had leakages.
The guard, who identified himself as a staff of UTM Limited, explained that the surveillance team had received the information about leaking pipelines at about 8.00p.m. on Thursday and promptly reported to their superiors.
However, he stated that “our bosses in charge of the pipelines from Port Harcourt to Kaduna allayed their fears, saying that the old pipelines were no longer being maintained by the authorities and bears no petroleum products.
“When we raised the alarm our boss said that government is not doing anything with the old line and they were not paid to maintain it,” he said, adding that product was eventually pumped into the abandoned pipeline with leakages thereby resulting to explosion.