Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
At the moment, there is anxiety and fear in the commercial city of Onitsha, Anambra State, as massive erosion at Nkisi-Aroli Street and Obeleagu Street in Inland has wrecked 20 houses in the area.
No life has been lost so far, but over 1,000 persons have been rendered homeless. Two churches, a school, shops and residential buildings have been completely destroyed.
The erosion also destroyed the bridge that connected Obeleagu Street to other streets in the area, destroying property worth billions of naira.
Daily Sun gathered that the situation has created fear among residents, even as many expressed fear that more buildings might collapse due to the impact of the erosion.
When the reporter visited the area, affected residents were in a state of confusion and helplessness. Some others were crying and packing their property to safer places.
The problem, it was gathered, was caused by a drainage channel connected to Nkisi River, which later turned into an erosion site.
On September 12, 2019, after a heavy rain, a three-storey building built close to the gully at 22, Nkisi Aroli Street, collapsed, putting other nearby buildings around in danger. And since that time, the erosion has continued pulling buildings down. The recent incident was caused by a three-day downpour on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week, which pulled down more houses. Many people living along the erosion site were seen vacating their property, as more buildings were developing cracks.
Some of the victims, Mr. Chukwuma Onwe, Ukamaka Anyigor, Kingsley Igwe, said they were still counting their losses. They said they were rendered homeless by the incident and have since been passing the night in the street, alongside their family members.
One of the victims said: “We were sleeping when we heard a sound. Shortly after, a storey building close to our house collapsed. Nobody was living in the house because they had all run away due to fear that it might collapse. So, the building caved in and fell into the gully. It was about 11pm on Wednesday. So we had to pack some of our property that night to a nearby uncompleted building.
“For three days, we have been sleeping with our families under the rain and in an uncompleted building. We have been battling with the hunger caused by the coronavirus lockdown and now this disaster has befallen us. It is really a double tragedy for us and we need help from government and good-spirited individuals to feed our families and look for a place to lay our heads at night.”
Other residents living close to the gully, Mr. Chuka Anyaegbunam and Mrs. Kate Anyieberi, said they have not been sleeping at night, especially whenever it rains, due to fear of collapse of any building along the erosion site. They blamed government for being slow and inactive in attending to issues that affect the life and property of the people.
“This thing started very small last year, but government failed to pay attention to it and re-channel the water to a better place. They turned a deaf ear and turned away their eyes until it continued and has reached this level. This gully has destroyed the Redeemed Christian Church of God building and their school, Sabbath Mission Church. About 20 houses have gone. You can’t even trace them.
“Our building is the third in the line; so we are afraid and can’t sleep again due to fear. Many of us are packing out to unknown places because we have not got new apartments to move to. What we do now is to look for an open space or uncompleted building to keep some of our valuables, and at night we move ourselves and families to other places to sleep.
“This disaster started last year during the rainy season and stopped when the dry season came. It has continued now as another rainy season has set in. Had it been that it was tackled last year when the rain stopped, it wouldn’t have reached this level. Look at the level of damage it has caused to the residents. This is the beginning of the rainy season. You can imagine what will happen when the rainy season comes in full force like in July, August and September. So, more disaster awaits this area,” they lamented.
Other families affected include Uzoamaka Ede, Ukamaka Nweke, Ngozi Eleze, Christiana Eze, Sunday Nweke, Uzoma Njoku, Joseph Nome and Cecilia Igboke. They all said they were in need of urgent attention to reduce their suffering with their children.
“There is no money in this lockdown of coronavirus. We don’t have money to eat, let alone funds to rent new apartments. We have been rendered homeless and we have been sleeping outside. Government should come to our rescue and provide a refugee camp for us,” some of the victims said.
Also speaking on the disaster, the national president of Onitsha Improvement Union, Sir Chile Ekweogwu, and the Onitsha North Local Government chairman of the union, Chief Akunne Chika Odiakosa, who led members to assess the situation, called for quick government intervention.
They expressed regrets that, in spite of visits by state and federal government to the scene last year, nothing was done to save the situation. They called on the Federal Government to urgently intervene, noting that the disaster had overwhelmed the state government. They also appealed to the Anambra State government to immediately provide temporary solution to the problem.
The priest in charge of Saint Luke’s Anglican Church, Nkisi-Aroli, Rev. Chinedu Ogugua, whose church was just by the gully, said that his congregants’ confidence was God: “We are waiting for government to come to our rescue but, for now, we resort to prayers, believing God that he will protect us and people that live around here. It is quite unfortunate that government waited till this time, because I know the first time this collapse started in September last year, it wasn’t like this. I personally put a call to the state Commissioner for Works and commissioners for Agriculture and the Environment. They were at the site.
“Later, the Minister of Environment came from Abuja to assess the place and promised to tackle the problem. But until now, nothing has been done. I learnt that government has sent some people to come take a look at the place and they promised to come and start work at the gully site.
“All they need to do is to connect the hanging gutter that should run down to the street over there and build some retaining walls to stop water having a direct contact with the surface soil. If that could be done, with time, they now know what to do to stop it permanently. But for now, that is what they should do urgently to stop or forestall further havoc.
“I can count up to ten buildings that have already collapsed inside the gully and many will likely collapse if it is not checkmated. The miracle is that nobody has lost his or her life since it started last year. It is only property that was lost and most of the residents close to the place packed out before the building collapsed,” Rev. Ogugua stated.
A resident of Onitsha, Rev. Emeka Onochie of Divine Gospel Mission, Onitsha, expressed shock at what he saw at the scene. He described the damages as devastating, noting that government’s attention was needed to stop further disaster.
“It is a very big tragedy. The disaster is beyond my expectation because when this thing was at the early stages, it would have been controlled had it been that the government was proactive to curtail further disaster. You can see it yourself that it’s getting worse by the day. By the middle of the year when the rains set in properly, I don’t think people will live around here again because it would wash away the entire houses around this area.
“This disaster calls for immediate attention to save lives,” he said. “Governor Willie Obiano should come here to see the level of damage done here by the erosion and should tackle it immediately. There are other buildings already affected that are waiting to collapse. The governor and his officials should come and check this area to know the extent it has affected the building around this area. They should inform the residents to vacate before it is too late for them. The entire area is vibrating and if something is not done urgently, the worst will happen.
“The last time I came to this place, it wasn’t like this. You don’t know what will happen next. So, government should rush to this place to save lives and property. I’m calling on the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe to call the attention of government to the situation in order to save his subjects.”