Tanker blast kills more than 100 collecting spilled petrol in Niger Delta
MORE than 100 people who rushed to collect up fuel after a Nigerian petrol tanker tipped over yesterday were killed when the vehicle exploded.
At least 50 others were injured in the incident in the oil-rich southern Niger Delta region.
The tanker was trying to avoid a head-on collision with buses when it swerved into a ditch at about 7am, said Rivers State police spokesman Ben Ugwuegbulam. It then overturned, spilling its load into bushes.
Local people dashed to the scene in a bid to collect the leaking fuel.
Some troops who arrived at the crash site before the fire broke out ordered local people to stay clear, but many ignored the warning, an official from the national emergency management agency said.
Locals said that the accident occurred on the state’s major east-west road which is currently being widened. Construction workers, however, hadn’t yet reached the stretch where the accident occurred which remained a single carriageway, forcing vehicles coming from opposite directions to negotiate through passage.
Witnesses said some charred corpses were still lying in the area hours after the explosion, including children’s bodies. “What did these small ones know about coming to scoop fuel?” wondered Alagoa Morris, co-ordinator at advocacy group Oil Watch Nigeria.
He said some women wailed at the scene of the explosion, desperately looking for their relatives. The location of some of the bodies suggested that they were trying to run away when fire consumed them, Morris added.
“How can people who have enough to eat scoop oil that belongs to someone else?” said Mr Morris. “It is poverty.”
Many of the dead were motorcycle taxi operators, known locally as “Okada”, who raced to fill up their tanks after learning of the crash, according to a photographer at the scene.
Despite decades as an oil producing region, the majority of those living in the Delta remain desperately poor and have little access to proper medical care, education or work. Anger over the situation on several occasions has driven young people to attack foreign oil firms based there and steal fuel from pipelines.
The truck accident took place near Okogbe town in the Niger Delta – a region of mangrove swamps.
Lorries driving the country’s roads are often old and poorly maintained and road worthiness checks are scant.
Hundreds of people yesterday crowded around as soldiers and emergency workers lifted bodies into ambulances and police trucks. The fuel tanker was left a pile of smouldering ash, twisted metal and molten tyres.
The state’s information commissioner Ibim Semenitari said the fire had been put out but emergency services were still trying “to clear the carnage.”
“More than 100 people were killed in the inferno from the petrol tanker, while around 50 with severe burns have been hospitalised,” she said.
Some of those taken to the hospital were severely burned, while others appeared suffered only minor injury, said Geoffrey Ikogha a local chief in Ahoada, near the oil hub of Port Harcourt. He confirmed that women and children were among those killed.
“This tells a tragic story about the state of national infrastructure and the poverty of the people,” said Nnimmo Bassey, of Environmental Rights Action.
In March, a petrol tanker caught fire after skidding off the road in southern Port Harcourt, killing six people and injuring several others.
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