*2 monarchs, Hon Nwabeke, Senator Orji call for FG’s assistance
From Steve Oko, Umuahia
The death toll in the pipeline explosion that occurred in two Abia communities early Friday morning has hit 150 according to local source.
Chairman, Traditional Rulers Council in Osisioma Local Government Area where the incident occurred, HRM Eze Ikechukwu Chiavoyinefu who announced the figure when the Senator representing Abia Central, Sen Theodore Orji visited the area for on the spot assessment described the incident as a national disaster.
He said the communities had been thrown into mourning as victims keep dying every day following severe burns they sustained.
“About 70 persons where packed in the health clinic near my palace on the first day it happened and all of them have now died. Up to 150 have so far died “, the monarch lamented.
Another monarch, HRH Eze Godswill Mgbarime of Umueze (one of the affected communities), said so many of his subjects had died as a result of injuries they sustained from the explosion.
He blamed security operatives who he alleged were busy collecting money from the villagers who were coming to scoop fuel from a ruptured pipeline instead of stopping them from gaining access to the scene.
“When the oil leakage occurred some security men arrived the place and instead of doing their job they were rather collecting N1000 from each person that came to scoop fuel there. We learnt that three of them also died when the fire started.
He thanked Sen Orji for his prompt visit and appealed to Government for urgent assistance.
Meanwhile the Divisional Police Officer in the area, Mr Obongoma Udosen said 19 corpses were recovered from one of the scenes and four in another scene.
He said some of the victims had been moved to the Abia State University Teaching Hospital Aba for medical attention.
In his narration, former member representing the constituency in the Abia State House of Assembly, Hon Ikechukwu Nwabeke, blamed the incident on negligence by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
He said that the NNPC was duly informed by the locals that its pipelines that passed through the community were leaking yet it failed to take any action to fix it.
According to the former lawmaker, NNPC instead of repairing the leaky pipelines or pomp products through the ones that are sound, “may be erroneously pumped petrol through the faulty pipeline on that fateful day.”
He debunked reports of possible vandalism saying it was a pure case of pipeline leakage.
“When the villagers discovered fuel was spilling from the leaky pipelines information was relayed to NNPC but they failed to take any action.
“Then early in the morning when a certain woman who fries ‘akara’ (bean cake) in the area woke to do her business but unknown to her that the whole area where her house was had been soaked with petrol
“The moment she struck match the whole building went up in flames. The fire spread to the entire neighbourhood defected by the leakage.”
While the said woman died on the spot her husband reportedly died the next day at the hospital while the entire building was completely razed down.
Meanwhile the Deputy Chief Technical Officer of the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, Mr Sani Balas who was at the scene during the visit confirmed that there was nothing to suggest any act of vandalism.
Chairman of Vigilante group in Umuimo village of Njikoumunna community where the incident occurred said they recorded four deaths on the first day of the incident, while eight were hospitalised.
In his own account, Chairman of Osisioma LGA, Mr Benjamin Mgbeahuru expressed sadness over the refusal of NNPC to repair the leaky pipes despite receiving sufficient information about it before the explosion.
He said that he had personally gone to NNPC depot at Osisioma to notify them about the leakages but got no tangible explanations.
According to him NNPC also ignored three invitations by the Council for a meeting on how to tackle the challenge of constant pipeline leakages in the area which he regretted had affected water boreholes in the area.
He said NNPC should be held responsible for the disaster which he blamed on negligence of duty.
Responding, Senator Orji expressed grief over the incident which he said was a disaster of unimaginable magnitude.
The Senator who said he rushed home from Abuja as soon as he heard about the incident sent his condolences to families of the victims.
The former Governor expressed regret at the level of devastation recorded in the incident especially loss of human lives.
He, therefore, urged the Federal Government to quickly direct the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to send relief materials and medication to the affected communities.
The senator who donated cash to some of the victims currently receiving treatment in various hospitals in Aba and Osisioma called for immediate supply of medics to the area to avoid outbreak of diseases.