No fewer than 69 persons were burnt to death from a fire outbreak that occurred after a fuel-laden tanker rammed into a building in Onitsha, Anambra State on Sunday.
At least 15 L300 buses were also burnt. The tragedy occurred at about 3pm at Upper Iweka Roundabout when the tanker conveying fuel to Asaba in Delta State fell and caught fire.
Governor Willie Obiano, who rushed to the scene, was moved to tears. The burnt buses were parked inside the motor park. Three motorcycles were also burnt.
Residents gathered at the scene, crying as rescue efforts were ongoing. Among the dead were an expectant woman and little children, it was learnt.
Most of the victims were passengers and readers at a newspaper stand.
The Nigerian Red Cross Society Chairman in Anambra State, Peter Emeka Kathy, confirming the death toll said, “We have 69 burnt to death persons as at now. There are also 30 injured in the hospitals. The dead have been evacuated to various mortuaries in Onitsha, from Toronto to St Charles Boromneo Mortuaries and others in town.”
He said the bodies will be evacuated tomorrow from the mortuaries to the teaching hospital for the necessary tests “because many of them were burnt beyond recognition.” According to an eye witness,Victor Ugwummadu, the driver of the tanker was descending the Upper Iweka flyover from the Enugu-Nkpor end of the expressway when he lost control of the vehicle.”
Ugwummadu said the tanker caught fire a few minutes after hitting into the building.
It is believed that the tanker’s brakes may have collapsed.
Hosea Karma, Anambra State Police Commissioner was at Upper Iweka with top security chiefs as the charred remains of the victims were being evacuated by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) officials.
Another eye witness, Sunday Ogbuji, described the incident as “terrible”.
As at 5.15pm yesterday, the charred bodies were still being evacuated by security and paramilitary operatives to nearby Toronto Hospital at Upper Iweka.
Karma described the incident as “a tragedy which is unfortunate.” He said the tanker was coming from Oguta Road end of Onitsha and was trying to link Owerri Road with loaded PMS. It lost control, falling on top of the building before going on fire.
The police chief said all the passengers inside those buses – he put the figure at 12 – were burnt beyond recognition.
He added that the injured were immediately rushed to a nearby hospital. He did not mention the hospital’s name.
Karma did not give the total figure of the dead, saying evacuation and mop-up was ongoing.
Chuma Mbonu, Commissioner for Transport, described the incident at Upper Iweka as “tragic” and “unfortunate”.
He confirmed that 14 vehicles were burnt and scores trapped.
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