Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Joy, like a river, is flowing in the hearts of the survivors of the tragic accident that claimed the lives of several people in Onitsha on Wednesday, when the driver of a tanker laden with kerosene lost control of the truck.
The vehicle rammed into a phalanx of traders and passersby in the Upper Iweka area of the busy metropolis, killing about 20 people and left several others with different degrees of injuries.
The injured survivors were rushed to Toronto hospital while the bodies of the dead victims were deposited at the hospital’s morgue.
Two of the survivors, Mrs. Lilian Nwankwo and Mrs. Kate Okafor, who spoke with Sunday Sun at the hospital were full of gratitude to God for escaping death in the tragic incident.
Recounting what happened, Nwankwo said: “I was hawking cashew nuts at the place when the accident occurred. I was turned towards the tanker, and I didn’t know that the vehicle had lost control. The next next thing was that I saw myself in the hospital in great pain.”
On her part, Okafor told Sunday Sun: “I was coming from Asaba to board a vehicle to Enugu at Upper Iweka when the incident happened and I was brought to the hospital. I have a fracture on my leg but I thank God that am alive today.”
Other victims taken to Toronto hospital, include Aloysius Atuegbu, Clement Jackson, Chidozie Christopher and Valentine Chijoke, who said that they were just passing through the area on a tricycle, to board vehicles to travel to other states when the incident occurred.
Chijoke Nworji who witnessed the accident recounted that the tanker lost control at MCC bus stop on the Enugu-Onitsha expressway and then veered into the service lane, where it crushed anything in its path and continued moving until it finally stopped by the drainage at Abuja park.
He said that the causalities were mainly the roadside traders, hawkers, food vendors, passenger loaders working at the park and passersby. Nworji said the bodies of some victims were mangled beyond recognition. They body parts were picked up and taken to the mortuary.
His words: “The tanker killed more than 21 people and many other people who were injured will die in the hospital because of the degree of the injuries. The driver of the tanker just wanted to kill people because he had opportunity to force the vehicle towards where people were not many but he followed the busy service lane thereby killing many people. But I thank God that I ran away and was saved.”
The Anambra State Chairman of the Nigerian Red Cross Society, Prof Peter Emeka Katchy, who led the rescue team to the scene of the accident said that they evacuated seven corpses to the Toronto hospital morgue at Upper Iweka and took four injured victims to another hospital.
He explained that the tanker killed a lot of people from the MCC bus stop down to the gate of Peace Mass Transit. He added that three other injured people were taken to Beater hospital at Onitsha-Owerri road.
Katchy said that officials f the Federal Road Safety Corps later removed the tanker which blocked the road after it finally stopped by the big drainage that forced it stop at Abuja park.
Recall that in 2015 the driver of a tanker laden with fuel lost control of the vehicle at the same place and burst into flames and killed many people.
The head of the mortuary unit of the hospital, who gave his name as Henry confirmed to Sunday sun that nine corpses were brought to the hospital. He also disclosed that 14 injured persons were brought the hospital but one person later died, which brought the number of dead persons in the hospital to 10.
Father of one of the dead victims, Chief Anthony Nwachukwu, said he lost his 31-year-old son in the tragic incident, noting the death of the son happened exactly three months after he buried his wife and mother of the deceased.
The distraught father said: “My son is the head teacher in a school at Ogbaru. He told me that he was going to make photocopies at Upper Iweka. But after some time I got a phone call that there was accident at Upper Iweka. When I got there I went straight to the hospital and checked the wards but I could not see him. Then I was directed to check at the morgue, which was where I eventually I saw his corpse. That day was exactly three months after the burial of his mother.”
The father of another victim, Mr. John Iwuajaku, said that he was called on phone that his son Goodluck was among the victims of the accident. He thought that he was still alive but did not know that he was already dead.
Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano who visited both the scene and victims at the Toronto hospital on Friday promised to foot the hospital bills for their treatment.
He warned against street trading, saying that the majority of the victims were street traders and hawkers. He stressed that government would continue the enforcement of the ban on street trading in the state.
The governor also urged the people of the state to key into the health insurance scheme in case of any eventuality of this nature.
The State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment Mr. C. Don Adinuba had in a statement condoled the families of the deceased victims of the accident.
The statement read in part: “The state government commiserates with the victims and their families. Governor Willie Obiano has directed that the surviving victims be given the best medical attention available. The Anambra State Government will bear the cost entirely.
“Governor Obiano has also set up a panel to investigate the cause or causes of the accident and advise the state government on measures to take to avoid a similar occurrence.
“The panel will be headed by the Honorable Commissioner for Transport. The members are the Commissioner for Health, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, the Commandant of the Anambra State Traffic Management Agency, the state Commandant of the Federal Road Safety Corps and a representative of the Nigeria Police Force. The members will submit their report within one week.
“The number of casualties in the March 13 accident would perhaps have been as high as that of four years ago but for the state government’s policy prohibiting street trading and hawking in busy places in the state like Upper Iweka Road in Onitsha.”
However, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) of the Anambra Police Command, Mr. Haruna Mohammed, a Superintendent of Police, said that the driver of the tanker had been arrested and assured that full investigation into the cause had commenced.
Giving further details, he said that the fatal motor accident involved a Mack tanker with registration number EFF81XA loaded with kerosene and driven by one Junior Agari, 35-hyear-old male driver who until the incident resided in Warri. Mohammed said those who died comprised six males and one woman.