Yenagoa – Medical workers on Friday struggled to save the survivors of a massive petrol fire in southern Nigeria, as the death toll, previously put at roughly 100, rose by at least four. Relatives of those who were engulfed in flames while scooping fuel from an overturned tanker flocked to area hospitals and found family members who were hardly recognisable.
Sade Orisola said she received a call to say that her brother was among those burned early Thursday in the inferno on a major highway in Rivers state.
“When I got to the hospital I met a different person wrapped under a huge bandage,” she told AFP as she sobbed outside the Federal Medical Centre in Yenagoa, capital of neighbouring Bayelsa state.
“‘Can that be my brother?’ is what I asked.”
Rivers officials said more than 100 people were killed and 50 others injured in the fire. The severely burned survivors were rushed to several hospitals and medical workers were struggling to assess the full loss of life.
“What I can tell you is that we are still losing people,” Rivers information commissioner Ibim Semenitari said. In one of the hospitals where we had 13 wounded, four people have died,” she added.
More fatalities were feared at two other hospitals and the the state plans to release a final toll on Monday, Semenitari explained. Medical workers at the hospital in Yenagoa who requested anonymity said they were not equiped to care for victims with such high degree burns, a common problem in Nigeria, where many hospitals lack the most basic facilities.
The tragedy happened after the tanker swerved to avoid three oncoming vehicles in Rivers’ Ahoada area, a key trading hub in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. Semenitari said that the toll could have been much higher had the fire occured closer the town of Ahoada, as even more people may have rushed to the scene to collect the fuel spilling out of the toppled truck.
“In a way we may have been fortunate,” she said.
Fuel leaks and oil tanker accidents in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, often draw huge crowds and many deaths have been caused by accidental fires. In October 1998, more than 1 000 people died at Jesse, in the southeastern Delta state, when a pipeline exploded as people tried to steal fuel.
In April last year, a fuel tanker overturned at an army checkpoint in the central part of the country, sparking an inferno in which some 50 people were killed. Rivers Governor Chibuike Amaechi has ordered a full probe into the causes of the crash.
Some Nigerian newspapers on Friday said poor roads were partly to blame, but Kayode Olagunju of the Federal Road Safety Commission has said such speculation is premature. More than 17 000 people died in 31 000 road accidents across Nigeria between 2007 and 2009, according to the road safety agency’s most recent report.