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Onitsha: Victims of Upper Iweka, Ochanja fire decry delays in relief materials

Stories by Emeka Ugomba

It was double fire tragedy in the commercial city of Onitsha few days ago as twin tanker inferno affected several traders doing business between Upper Iweka and nearby bigger and larger Ochanja Main Market.

In an interview, Chairman of Ochanja Central Market, Chief Nelson Ojukwu confirmed that shops inside Ochanja Market were burnt, adding that but for his traders and the leadership of the market who mobilised water tankers, the whole market and the surrounding buildings would have burnt to ashes.

Accordingly, he called on the Anambra State government to provide the markets with fire-fighting trucks to alleviate the sufferings and losses the traders and individual house owners suffered during fire incidents.

Speaking to traders during his visit, the Governor of Anambra State, Chief Wille Obiano sympathized with the traders and assured that relief is on the way for affected traders.

However, since last week, many of the affected traders decried the cumbersome nature of their profiling process ahead of giving them relief materials by the state government.

The first inferno came from a load 45 litres tanker from Warri enroute to Enugu that ran into a ddep pothole at Upper Iweka and burst out in flames which created havoc at Upper Iweka and flown down through the gutters to Ochanja Main Market within split seconds.

The fire, according to victims did not receive any form of fighting attention as nearby shops and buildings including banks and some filling stations were razed.

As if that was not enough, a fortnight after the first incident, another petrol tanker fire visited the same city but from a different direction on the same Expressway leading to Enugu State.

Many people were trapped and feared dead, while scores of persons sustained injuries in Onitsha, as a petrol-laden tanker lost control, crashed into Toronto Hospital at Upper Iweka, along Enugu-Onitsha Expressway and burst into flames.

The incident, which occurred at about 12 noon, is the second tanker accident that had claimed several lives.

It was gathered that victim among others, who lost their lives, was a pregnant woman and her three-year-old baby strapped to her back.

The fire from the explosion also consumed about 40 buildings, affected over 500 lock-up shops along the Iweka Road Street Market and spread to Ochanja and Menax markets.

The incident, which sparked confusion among residents and traders as it started from the loss of control by the tanker opposite Toronto Hospital Onitsha, while descending Zik Roundabout end of Onitsha- Enugu Expressway and veered off the service lane, with the fuel tanker pulling off the truck head and spilling its content, which caught fire.

On level of damages, property and goods worth millions of naira were destroyed at Ochanja Market, while a commercial bank was also touched as the fire passed through New Auto Spare Parts Market, down to Iweka Road and to Emodi Street by Zik’s Avenue, burning all the shops along the road.

Eyewitnesses said but for the intervention of youths, who climbed up three and four-storey buildings, the casualties would have been much as trapped old men, women and children in most of the buildings were rescued before the ravaging fire caught up with them.

Additional fact checks by Business Hilights South East Bureau chief showed that none of the markets in Onitsha had any functional fire service station, as people watched helplessly as their houses, shops, goods and flats got burnt.

One of the worrisome scenes during the fire incident was how youths trying to quench the inferno and chanting anti-government slogans, forced two sewage tankers taking faeces to dump sites to assist in putting out the fire, but with little success as the fire continued to blaze towards Ochanja Market.

Another more worrisome incident during the period of the second inferno was reports that a fire service vehicle coming from Asaba truck load of water, was attacked by the angry youths, who though it was from Anambra State over delays.