Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
Mr Onyekpandu Ekeada of Umuma Nekede in Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State is still in disbelief how his three children, wife and a grandson all died before his very eyes in a gas plant fire that broke out beside their house.
Ekeada, a commercial bus driver was just a few metres away from where his family was resting outside their house when the incident occurred Wednesday, last week.
When our correspondent visited the scene on Monday, the local gas plant had already been sealed off by the Owerri West council authorities while a team from the Imo State command of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) was seen preventing angry youths from causing more havoc at the gas plant.
Grief words can’t explain
Mr Ekeada who managed to mutter some words to our correspondent said “As you can see I cannot talk now, I just lost my wife and three children including my grandson in that place. But I will make sure I get to the bottom of this; I don’t mind if I die in the process, do you know what it means to lose such important people in your life?”
However, a neighbour of the victims, who identified himself as Bright narrated what he felt, was the cause of the fire incident. According to him, “It was around 9pm when we saw a truck discharging gas at the Tiengo gas station beside this house we are standing, I suspect the gas might have leaked and traced a light to this compound and there was fire everywhere outside.
“Mama Ifeanyi and her children were all sitting outside when the fire caught them, they screamed and help could not come their way quickly because everybody was running away. It was later some people started pouring water at them, before they were taken to the hospital.”
Although, the fire did not affect the truck discharging the gas, but a small garden beside the gas station was completely levelled.
Our correspondent further learnt that the deaths could have been prevented if the gas station had a fire extinguisher.
“The time we were all running away and they were crying, if there was a fire extinguisher the flame would have been put off. We managed to get a pipe from opposite the gas plant and attached it to a running pipe, that was what we used in fighting the fire with support from other people who were pouring sands and other things they could lay their hands on.”
Another version of the story
Another eyewitness, Chijioke Anozie who also spoke to our correspondent had another version of what caused the fire incident.
According to Anozie, “One of those people discharging the gas must have been making use of his phone’s flashlight to see because it was very dark.
“The fire actually flashed like a wave and touched a fire, outside here or something, it could be a cigarette or something else but certainly nobody was cooking outside here, they all cook inside and the fire did not get inside, but from the injury sustained by one of those people discharging the gas, the fire might have emanated from there because one of his hands was burnt”, Anozie claimed.
Family recalls how it happened
First son of Ekeada, Ifeanyi reacting to the incident said he never believed that his siblings would die from the fire incident.
According to him, “it was my mother that I was not sure will make it because she was badly burnt , my other sisters and brothers were still talking before we rushed them to the hospital but they came back to tell us that they all died.”
Ifeanyi’s younger sister, Uchechi who is the mother of the five year old boy who also died in the fire narrated the incident as she sobs: “I was inside when the fire started while my son was outside with my mother, all of a sudden we heard a noise, the fire was too much I could not save my only child”.
Tragedy after tragedy
It was gathered that Ekeada has nine children from his late wife, Marcilia. Besides the three that died in the inferno, one of his sons was also said to have died two months ago while playing football with his friends.
A man who claimed to be an in-law to Mr Ekeada narrated the incident. “He was playing football with his friends when the ball went over the fence, he volunteered to go and bring the ball, so he jumped over the fence and after retrieving the ball attempted to scale the fence again back to their field when the fence collapsed on him, he died on the spot”.
Meanwhile, manager of the gas station and an attendant were arrested in connection to the incident while the owner is yet to show up for fear of being lynched by angry youths of the area while the corpses had been deposited at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Owerri.
State govt reacts
Deputy Governor of the State, Professor Placid Njoku has conveyed Governor Hope Uzodimma’s condolence message to the family of the deceased when he paid them a visit at Nekede.
He condemned indiscriminate siting of petrol and gas stations in residential areas of the state. He said the state government was saddened to receive the news of the death of people under such circumstances just as he added that government would review the situation and put appropriate measures to ensure that such incident does not occur again.
Njoku said, “We would put measures in place and implement existing laws to ensure the state does not lose its citizens to the careless establishment by people who do not want to obey very simple rules of the state”. Prof. Njoku was accompanied to the scene of the inferno by the State Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Raji Ibrahim. The Commandant assured that investigation was ongoing, and promised to bring anybody involved to book.