- Over 20 crushed to death
- Obiano mum over Umuchu crash
By Okechukwu Onuegbu, O’star Eze, Phil Okose and Arinze Anaegbunam
Those who escaped being crushed to death, Wednesday, as petroleum tanker rammed its way through the busy service lane at the Upper Iweka area of Onitsha, were full of gratitude to God for sparing their lives.
More than 20 persons reportedly lost their lives while seven others escaped with injuries during the multiple auto-crash that sent shockwaves across Onitsha, the commercial center of Anambra state and beyond.
However, there are conflicting reports on the casualty figure in the accident. While the chairman of Red Cross Society in Anambra state, Prof. Peter Katchy, disclosed that seven persons died at the spot, police claimed it was 19. However, sources around the Federal Road Safety Corps, Anambra sector command said that 20 persons were confirmed dead.
Meanwhile, Governor Willie Obiano has set up a panel to investigate the circumstances of the accident and advise the state government on ways to avoid recurrence. The panel will be headed by the state commissioner for transport, Uche Okafor, with commissioner for health, the attorney general and commissioner for justice, the commandant of the Anambra State Traffic Management Agency, the state commandant of the Federal Road Safety Corps and a representative of the Nigeria Police Force, as members.
Obiano, in a statement signed by C. Don Adinuba, the commissioner for information and public enlightenment, also directed that the surviving victims be given the best medical attention available as the state will bear the cost entirely.
As at press time, the state government was yet to officially react to similar multiple crash that led to the death of six persons and injuries to scores at the Ibughubu Market, Umuchu in Aguata local government area of the state earlier on Tuesday. Orient Daily had earlier reported that the accident, involving a truck loaded with cement and tipper destroyed property worth millions of naira. No reason was given for the state government silence on the carnage.
Orient Weekend gathered from police official report that the Onitsha accident at Upper Iweka involved a Mack tanker with Reg No EFF 81 XA loaded with kerosene and driven by 35-year-old Junior Agari from Delta state.
According to the state police public relations officer, Haruna Mohammad, Agari had lost control of his vehicle “along the service lane of Upper Iweka, Onitsha and knocked down 19 persons.” “Police Patrol team attached to CPS Onitsha visited the scene and rushed victims to Toronto Hospital, Onitsha, seven of them; six males and one female whose identities are yet to be ascertained were confirmed death by the medical doctor while 12 others are receiving treatment,” the statement read.
He added that the driver (the suspect) was arrested and that the case was still under investigation to ascertain circumstances surrounding the incident.
Witnesses said the vehicle was descending from the Borromeo round-about end of the Onitsha/Enugu Expressway when the driver lost control of the steering and started crushing pedestrians, vehicles and objects along the service lane. It reportedly caused more carnage as it headed for the Adam and Eve Motor Park, as it crushed food vendors, hawkers, vehicles and passengers waiting to alight or board vehicles and, in the process, killed about 10, injuring seven before it finally got to Oguta Road Junction where it finally stopped.
“I saw it happen, that ill-fated tanker lost control as a result of brake failure and started somersaulting and hitting people and objects within reach. Most hit were those at the Adam and Eve axis where many were crushed to death instantly,” a witnessed disclosed.
An Onitsha South Transport Company Toyota Sienna bus with 10 passengers discharging passengers from Enugu was among the vehicles crushed beyond recognition. Body parts and blood littered the scene, making it difficult to identify most of the victims.
About 10 corpses were deposited at the Toronto Hospital morque Onitsha while others were rushed to St Charles Borromeo Hospital morgue and other unidentified hospitals for medical attention. More than 300 people stormed Toronto hospital to have glimpse of the victims and possibly identify them but medical personnel had it hard controlling them as they wailed and cried.
The matron of the hospital, Ijeoma Ogoegbulam, told newsmen that, “10 corpses were deposited in the hospital morgue, and out of the ten, two died at the emergency theatre due to excessive bleeding, while eight died at the scene of the accident before they were brought to the hospital”.
She added that seven survivors, four females and three males, admitted at the hospital were recuperating. Among those that rushed in during the accident were men of the FRSC and Onitsha Central Divisional Police Officer, DPO, Mr. Ifeanyi Iburu.
Clement Jackson, an Akwa Ibom-based technician told Orient Weekend that he was on his way to Imo state on business. He recalled the dramatic incident. “I boarded a commercial keke that would take me to Oguta Road where I would get the prices of the items I needed. We were three in it waiting for it to load.
“I suddenly saw a truck coming towards us at top speed, knocking things and people down people as it came. Before I could jump down from the vehicle, the truck had already collided with it and one of the trucks climbed my left leg while another hit me on the shoulder,” Jackson narrated.
He, however disclosed that he was disappointed that while he was reeling in pains and asking for medical attention, passersby were busy taking photo and video shots of him and other victims. “It took the intervention of one man who later came to me and helped me into a nearby tricycle and I was brought to this hospital.”
He said that the other two passengers died while he only had a fracture on his left leg and feeling some pain on his back.
Aloysius Chidera Atuegwu, an immigration officer from Enugwu Ukwu sustained an eye injury during the accident. Atuegwu, who was on official duty from Enugu to Kano state before the accident, told Orient Weekend that he had no recollection of what happened as he just suddenly lost consciousness and when he regained consciousness, he found himself in the hospital.
Lilian Nwankwo, mother of six was hawking roasted cashew nuts when the vehicle ran onto her path. Mrs. Nwankwo, who hailed from Ebenebe in Awka North local government area of Anambra state, said she suddenly lost consciousness and regained it on the hospital bed.
Her husband, Gilbert Nwankwo, said that he was at Ogbo-mmanu at Upper New Market Road Onitsha looking for work as a mason assistant when someone came to him to inform him that his wife was involved in the truck accident.
“I quickly left everything and ran to this hospital and it turned out to be true. I was grateful to God that she was alive,” Mr. Nwankwo said, albeit complaining that he had no means of paying for the wife’s hospital bills.
According to him, the hospital had already said that a pint of blood worth N10,000 was needed by the wife as she lost a lot of blood from injuries sustained and “I am finding it difficult to raise the money”.
Kate Okafor, petty trader who was also involved in the accident was unable to speak to the press as she was in pains from a ball and socket bone dislocation and a nurse was attending to her trying to stabilise her condition. She also had bandage on one of her legs which Orient Weekend gathered was from a fracture.
However, her husband, Mr Okafor, said his wife was on her way to Enugu for a funeral ceremony with their ten-year-old surrogate son when she got involved in the accident. According to the 10-year-old boy, Mrs. Okafor had left him at the Enugu bus stop along Upper Iweka Road and gone to fix her shoe when the accident occurred. He was not affected by the accident as he ran away when he noticed the truck.
Earlier, the matron in charge of the hospital, Ijeoma Ogoegbunam said that the prognosis on the patients showed that the victims of the accident have “100 percent chance of surviving.”
She told Orient Weekend that they received 17 victims from the scene of the accident and that, while three of the victims died on arrival, after failed efforts, another seven were already dead before they got to the hospital.
She said the hospital commenced tests and treatments as the victims were brought in and that two males and one female were discharged the next morning by the hospital.
She also disclosed that the corpses had been claimed by their owners adding that one of the corpses that had its head chopped off was the only one difficult to identify until Thursday morning when a lady came around and identified it as that of her brother.
Ogoegbunam said that the hospital had not received such body count from accident in a long time and that the incident was a shock to them.
On the issue of hospital bills, the matron disclosed that Governor Willie Obiano who was represented by the commissioner for health, Dr Joe Akabuike, had pledged to pick the hospital bill of the victims.
The commissioner for transport, Mr Charles Okafor was not accessible as at the time of filing of report to comment on what the government was doing about the flash point where the accident occurred. Orient Weekend, however, recalls that heavy duty trucks had been barred by the government from parking along the expressway and provided a park for them. Petty traders who keep wares along the road were also warned to move their wares into the market stalls provided by the government.
Orient Weekend recalled that similar incident occurred on May 31, 2015 when a trailer loaded with petrol, lost control while descending from Army barracks side of Onitsha-Enugu expressway and rammed into Asaba Motor Park at Upper Iweka, and claimed 69 persons instantly.
The accident caused Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Governor Willie Obiano and others, to shed tears during their various visits to the scene and victims in the hospital.