For residents of Ajao Estate in Lagos, it was a tragic Tuesday. Tears flowed freely, and agony occupied many hearts in the community, which sits near the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, on the fateful night of Tuesday, July 28, when some gas cylinders exploded and killed no fewer than five persons.
The massive bang from the explosion shook every corner of the community. The scene of the accident was such a gory sight that many people could not take a second look, disappearing into the distance to wail like babies. Many sympathisers broke down in tears, crying uncontrollably, as they saw mangled and dismembered bodies littering the scene.
The cries increased when many were told that a popular woman who sold gas on the street and her daughter died in the inferno. The woman and her family members were said to have spent many years in the area, during which they became quite popular.
The incident, according to witnesses, started from a gas refill shop and the fire as well as the vibration travelled near and far in the area to wreak considerable havoc. About 11 other shops on the line and nearby houses were affected in one way or the other. From investigations, not only were lives lost, household belongings worth millions of naira were also destroyed as a result of the blast. Four vehicles, two tricycles, shops, and many other valuables were among the items destroyed by the impact of the explosion and the ensuing inferno.
Apart from the people that were sent to their early graves, two people were also injured. One was immediately resuscitated, while the other was taken to hospital, having sustained severe burns. It was learnt that four first responders at the scene sustained varied degrees of injuries. Many of the shops were gravely destroyed.
It was gathered that the incident happened at about 7pm, which saw many residents scampering for safety. The explosion, according to residents, occurred while the technician was trying to arrange his oxycytelene flame popularly known as carbide’s cylinder.
The tragedy struck on Inua Mohammed Street, off Asa-Afariogun Street, adjacent Faith City Hospital, Ajao Estate, Osolo Way, which is less than five kilometres from the international airport.
However, those who were first to arrive at the scene commended emergency responders and security personnel for their timely intervention. The fire was quickly tackled and prevented from escalating to more houses and shops. The injured were said to have been immediately rushed into some waiting ambulances.
Officials from the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Nigeria Police Force, Red Cross Society of Nigeria and Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps (LNSC) were said to have swiftly stormed the scene for rescue operations, as well as to control the surging crowd.
While narrating how the explosion happened, an eyewitness who operates a pharmacy on Asa-Afariogun Street, Mr. Ikechukwu Madu, described the blast as a tragedy that spontaneously sent fear and confusion into many residents.
Said he: “I was in my office when I heard a loud noise. The vibration was so much that we could not immediately tell what was happening. Then I saw people running in different directions. The vibration got to everyone in the estate. People were calling me from afar to ask if I knew what it was. Windows and other parts of buildings were shattered.”
On the number of casualties, he said the exact number might not be known immediately: “From what I know, five people have been confirmed dead. Among them were a tailor who was in her shop, the gas seller and her daughter, the person that came to buy gas from the shop and another person who was near the scene.”
He stated that the tricycle rider who brought the person that came to buy gas escaped by the whiskers. According to Madu, the lucky young man took a stroll to get something for himself in the neighbourhood, and that decision to take a walk at the particular time was what saved him from certain death.
“From what I gathered, someone came to fill a welding gas cylinder. They were already through with it and were checking to see if it was filled up, then the unthinkable happened. The whole area was devastated and almost everything turned to debris. About five shops completely became shattered. Cars and tricycles that were parked some metres away were not spared as they got burnt. There was fire here and there, but thank God for the firefighters who came very early. I was impressed with their timely response.
“But I am not happy with the fact that even though the incident happened since Tuesday night, some dismembered bodies are still left at the scene till this afternoon, about 18 hours after. It is so nauseating seeing them in the open. These are human beings, for goodness sake,” Madu said.
Another resident of the area on Olutosin Ajayi Street, Maleek Abdulateef, told Daily Sun that he was relaxing in front of his house when the explosion went off.
“I am pained by the fact that the woman and her daughter died, even though all the deaths are painful. There was a time my neighbours went to refill their gas cylinder in her place. Gas was scarce at that period. When other dealers in the product were busy increasing their prices, she sold at the normal price. I cannot forget her for that selflessness.
“She was very neat and always jovial. She was also very hardworking. I have never seen such a woman that is as committed as she was. She would be the first to resume at her shop and the last to leave. Many young ladies saw her as a role model and they went to her for counselling. Sadly, it all ended within minutes,” he said.
The deceased was also selling some building materials and a few vehicle parts.
A survivor, who identified himself as Obiagu, was full of praise to God for sparing his life. He told the reporter: “I just missed the explosion by a few metres. I just want to give thanks to God for sparing my life.”
In a chat with the correspondent, the acting coordinator, Lagos territorial office, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, said that the explosion occurred at about 7pm at a panel beater’s shop. Farinloye said that the incident led to the death of three persons, an assertion that contradicted the claims of those in the area.
“We understand that the explosion occurred while the technician was trying to put up his oxycytelene flame popularly known as carbide’s cylinder,” he said.
Some sources said the woman and her child had already closed for the day, but were called back on their way home to attend to a regular customer who had come to refill a gas cylinder.
The shop owner it was learnt, was able to refill the cylinder without any hitches. But trouble started when the customer wanted to load the filled cylinder into a waiting tricycle and the cylinder fell off and exploded, which set off a series of other explosions.
On his part, LASEMA director-general, Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, who confirmed the accident on Tuesday, said that two bodies were retrieved from the debris.
He said LASEMA received an emergency call on Tuesday while the fire had burnt shops and some wares. He explained that, upon arrival at the scene, it was discovered that there was an explosion in the area.
Oke-Osanyintolu added that the fire was put out by the combined efforts of LASEMA Response Unit and the Lagos State Fire Service.