Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
A major tragedy would have befallen the people of Amaokpara, Oshiri, in Onicha Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, on July 28, 2019, if some women and little children returning from a church programme that night had reached the Ukwumozi Egu Amaokpara stream when a high torrent of floodwater covered the bridge and wreaked havoc.
A large volume of floodwater had emptied into the stream following a heavy downpour earlier in the evening and increased it in volume and strength. Daily Sun gathered that the edge of the bridge collapsed in the process, thereby cutting off a section of the community from the others.
The disaster came a few months after a similar incident led to the collapse of the other edge of the same bridge. With the two edges completely washed off, the structure is on the verge of total collapse, if immediate repairs are not done.
When Daily Sun visited the scene, some youths and elders of the community were putting up a makeshift walkway to enable villagers on both sides of the divide cross the water, while waiting for government’s intervention. They also cleared the waterways to ensure free flow of water.
A community leader, Mr. Peter Okoha, said whenever there was heavy rainfall, the stream usually overflowed its banks and rose above the bridge, and whoever attempted crossing it at that point might be washed away by water.
He said that, so far, 12 persons from the community have been lost their to the water. While 10 of them fell into it and got drowned before the local authorities built a bridge, two persons were washed away and died while crossing the bridge.
Although he did not allude to any spiritual influence in the tragedies on different occasions, he said that the deaths could have been avoided: “Before this bridge was constructed, many people have died here. I make announcements and disseminate information for the people of Amaokpara. Therefore, anytime anything happens, the people will call me on phone and tell me about it, so, I can announce it to everybody.
“Like yesterday, when this thing happened, everywhere was over-flooded. The floodwater covered everywhere and I was notified about it on phone that night. I had to call everybody and we started working on it that night immediately the flood receded.
“Ten persons died in the water because there was no good bridge over it. The deceased persons were mostly women who fell into the water and drowned while trying to cross it.
“So, if something urgent is not done now to construct a better bridge; that previous experience in which deaths were recorded could start happening again. Even after this very one was constructed the water often covered the bridge whenever it rained.
“As a matter of fact, two persons have died in such circumstances. The water increased above the bridge level. It came with force. Unfortunately, the two persons were crossing the bridge at that moment and they were swept away by the flood.”
A woman leader in the community, Mrs. Mary Okoro, who was attending a church programme when the tragedy happened, also lamented their predicament: “Since this thing happened, we have been passing through untold hardship. As it stands now, we women cannot be making use of this makeshift crossover and we cannot send our children on errand across the bridge because we are afraid that it might collapse. We are scared. It collapsed twice last night.”
Chairman of Amaokpara Development Union, Mr. Agu Ifeanyichukwu, said the bridge was constructed in 1983 and the road also links at least six communities in two council areas.
“This community connects almost six communities, namely, Egu Mpu, Egu Igbodo, Egu Nwakpaka, Azuose, Ekumepoto, and others. This bridge also has a link with Eka community in Ezza North Local Government.
“We are now crying to the government to come to our aid and rescue us from this present condition. That is our appeal. The lifespan of the bridge has almost expired. We are appealing to the government to bring this one down and construct a new one,” he said.
Apart from the hardship the people were going through, this newspaper learnt that they lacked electrification and paved road. Residents of the area lamented that they were living in darkness.
Agu said his people were finding it difficult to convey their farm produce to the market, as the road was very bad: “We are also appealing to the government to widen the road and tar it so that it would be motorable for our people. It is now very difficult for our people to take their farm produce to the market.”
The youth president, Mr. Okoro Chinenye, corroborated the village chairman. He lamented that many youths who engaged in agriculture were discouraged because of the bad roads: “Even the health centre we have over there is not functioning because there is no light.”