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Survivors recount near-death experience as Lagos tanker explosion razed 11 vehicles

Hajia Suna Saliu’s life flashed before her eyes as she heard a loud explosion a few steps away from where she sold her herbal products.

Suna said she had her daughter strapped to her back and had left her kiosk in search of some change for her customer when the explosion happened.

“I thought I had even died. I was scared. All I remember is that I ran as fast as my legs could carry me under the bridge to take cover.

“The heat from the flames could be felt even as I was there and my child was crying badly. I wanted to run farther but then I remembered my goods and decided to return. It was a very confusing situation. I lost everything but I thank Almighty Allah for my life,” she said when Saturday PUNCH spoke to her on Friday.

On Thursday, at about 7:30 pm, the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency said a fuel tanker ascending Sifax inwards Costain Bridge rolled back onto another tanker, causing an explosion.

Several cars behind the vehicles were said to have been burnt beyond recognition, as motorists and passengers scampered to safety.

The agency, in a statement signed by its Director-General, Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, on Thursday said it had “activated its emergency response plan and all relevant stakeholders have commenced appropriate measures to combat the flames and prevent secondary incidents.”

“Lagosians are urged to remain calm,” it added.

Also, the Lagos State Fire Rescue Service in a post on X at about 8 pm, said, “Fire Alert! The Lagos State Fire and Rescue Service is currently engaging in firefighting operations at Costain towards Ijora 7up, where a tanker fire is being combated at the Lagos Quadrapont Bridge by the National Arts Theater, Iganmu. The Sari Iganmu and Ilupeju Fire Crews are combining efforts to tame the raging fire. An update will follow.”

The Lagos State Traffic Management Agency also confirmed the outbreak in a post on X, saying, “A tanker has gone up in flames just before Iganmu bridge from Sifax. LASTMA has already alerted the @LagosRescue. Our officers at the scene are doing their best to handle the situation.”

When our correspondent arrived at the scene on Thursday morning, smoke and pockets of small fire were still seen around the area.

The incident, our correspondent observed, happened opposite Fashola Estate, Palex Bus Stop, around the Iganmu Bridge in Ijora.

A woman, Chinendu Ogu, who said she lived blocks away and sold abacha (cooked cassava flakes) around the area, said the fire must have raged for more than four hours.

“I was here when it started. Everyone ran away. How can we combat that kind of fire? If you were here, you would not have been able to withstand it. The sound (of the explosion) alone would make you think your heart had fallen into your stomach. I left my tray of abacha and ran for my life.

“When the emergency workers came, they battled the fire for more than one hour but it was still raging. I thank God no one was hurt, but one of my customers lost two of his tankers.

“He was here earlier but he was taken out of the area. He has been crying. The tankers were fully loaded with petroleum products that people had already paid for.

“It was not long ago – I think in 2020- that one of his tankers also caught fire because of this same bad road issue.”

Our correspondent also noticed that a towing truck and a minibus were badly burnt and were lying on the road as emergency responders were seen around the area doing some routine checks.

One of the LASEMA officers who did not want his name in print told our correspondent that the said tanker was laden with petroleum products and was only trying to descend when one of its rear tyres got stuck, causing another vehicle behind to hit it thereby leading to the explosion.

“More than 11 vehicles, including trucks, minibuses, and the like were burnt,” the source added.

As of the time our correspondent left the scene at 5:12 pm, the three vehicles had yet to be removed from the road.

Also, the road inward Costain had been barricaded while the other road leading to Apapa and Ajegunle was left open.

This led to heavy traffic on the Ijora-Olopa Road.

Our correspondent also noticed that the road was partly overtaken by potholes deep enough to damage heavy-duty trucks.

“When it rains, you need to come and see how we suffer here,” a bus driver who gave his name only as Kunle said.

Narrow escape

However, a commercial bus (danfo) driver, Kingsley Onu, was caught in the middle.

Onu said but for a vehicle in front of him, he would have been directly behind the tanker that caused the explosion.

“I was right behind the truck. It was a miracle how I escaped. Immediately I heard the explosion and saw fire, I turned my car around and started moving in the opposite direction.

“The cars behind me followed my steps, though some of them were not lucky; they had to leave their cars and flee on foot. Some had to run towards the other end and jump down the bridge for safety but were robbed by the louts there.

“Some of the passengers on my bus got hurt as they tried to jump out of the window in fear. The door of my bus was pulled off in the confusion. Another truck trying to escape hit mine before the driver jumped off and set off on foot. It was a terrible situation,”  he added.

On what he thought might have been responsible for the fire, Onu said he saw a truck laden with petroleum products trying to maneuver its way out of a pothole on the road but got stuck.

In the process, it rolled back, hit another truck and triggered an explosion.

“Right before me, I saw two tankers and a truck razed. It was a raging inferno, and since there were many trucks either parked or passing through the road, it escalated very quickly. It is still a surprise no one got hurt because of the kind of fire I saw from my rear mirror as I reversed because you would think dozens would have been trapped by it.”

A structural engineer with a construction company, Ayodele Omo-Ajao, told our correspondent that he and his boss had just passed the scene and were on their way back when the explosion occurred.

“I was on the other side of the road leaving the area to the mainland. As soon as I heard the sound, my boss and I jumped out of the bus we boarded and started running.

“We raised the alarm about the fire and people who heard us and other passengers who had joined us also started running. Many left their cars and ran on foot. It was that bad,” he said.

On how the incident happened, Omo-Ajao said he saw that two trucks were trying to manage the small portion of the road left as another truck had got stuck in a deep pothole.

“If you know the Ijora-Iganmu Road very well, you will know that they are synonymous with heavy traffic and potholes.

“In fact, as one of the trucks was trying to squeeze itself to pass, the one whose tyre was stuck in the pothole, rolled back, hit it and it fell, spilling its content and causing an explosion,” he said.

“I saw a Bus Rapid Transit not up to 50 metres away. I was scared for them. As I was running and shouting, I saw people jumping off their windows, pushing people off the doorway, and running. It was a terrifying situation. I was far off when I heard the fire trucks coming.

“Up until I left the area around 9 pm or so, the situation was almost the same. The fire was almost unquenchable,” he added.

Another survivor, who gave his name as Talib, said though he had to jump out through the window of a bus and run for his life, he could not explain how he and his colleagues survived

“I ran the way I had never run in my life. The scariest thing is that, as we were running, there were many containers with fuel scattered along the road.

“I can’t even explain how I and my colleagues survived. There were cars stuck in the traffic. It is still a miracle that no one was hurt because if the drivers had not come out early before the explosion happened, they would have been burnt beyond recognition,” he added.

Car theft

Meanwhile, our correspondent gathered that several cars were hijacked during the pandemonium.

An X user, @oluwaberrymi, in a post, said one of his colleague’s car was stolen after he abandoned it to run for his life.

When our correspondent reached out for details, @oluwaberrymi said, “When the explosion occurred, he (my colleague) left his car to run to safety.

“By the time he came back when things had sort of cooled down a bit, he did not find his car at the spot he left it. It had been stolen. This also happened to several people.”

Also, a software engineer, who said he wanted to be identified as Roberts, said though he was not too close to the scene of the fire, he ran out of his Corolla when he heard the explosion sound.

“I am not even sure I locked the car. In my mind, all I was thinking about was my life. By the time I came back, my car was gone. Another person there was also looking for his Lexus.

“Another woman said they broke her windscreen, stole her bag, phone, wallet and laptop and also removed two mirrors from her car.

“It is amazing how Nigerians can be so wicked in the face of emergencies. They still have the guts to steal,” he said.

Roberts, however, said he had lodged a stolen car report at a police station.

LASG warns against fake news

However, the Lagos State Government in a statement by the Commission for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, warned residents against spreading fake news and causing panic, emphasising that no one was killed in the incident.

“A truck was trying to climb the bridge and another one was close by and another was parked on the bridge, but the space for them to maneuver was not that large enough. The one that wanted to climb could not go up; it rolled back and hit the one behind it and there was a spark that led to the huge fire that we saw last night.

“I have seen some videos of fire from other places that people mischievously said was what happened here at Ijora and I have seen some reports that people died here, but I would like to announce to you that we haven’t lost anybody in this fire. About 11 vehicles were involved and now as you can see our people are trying to clear the place,” Omotoso added.

Suspend use of naked fires – NEMA

Meanwhile, the South-West Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency, Ibrahim Farinloye, on Friday warned residents of the Moshood Abiola Way through Sifax down to Ijora Underbridge to Apapa to suspend the use of naked fire at the moment.

Farinloye, who made this known in a statement, explained that in the process of evacuating the trucks, PMS products spilled into the drainages moving towards their communities, and to avoid another explosion, the residents should avoid the use of naked fire.

“No one is advised to use the streams and tributaries of any rivers for washing or bathing. The Fire Services are presently carrying blanketing to make the product ineffective. Utmost cautions are highly advised, please,” he said.

11 vehicles, 12 high-tension poles destroyed

The Fire Chief, Director and Controller-General of the Lagos State Government Fire and Rescue Service, Mrs  Adeseye Margaret, stated in a situation report on the incident that 11 vehicles were burnt during the fire.

She said, “The raging Fire has been curtailed as the dampening of pockets of fire continues to allow for an investigation to reveal the cause and the evacuation of the carcass to bring about normalcy.

“Property damaged include two tankers, one tipper truck, three trailers, three cars and two mini buses (also known as korope).

“No life and no injuries recorded as occupants escaped unhurt.”

Also commenting on the extent of damage done by the fire, the NEMA South-West coordinator added, “There was no injury or casualty in the incident. It was related that one of the tankers crashed on the trailer with detergent and sardine. Other vehicles ran into the first two crashed vehicles.

“All occupants and drivers of all vehicles jumped into safety before the product caught fire. The fire from the tanker consumed 13 vehicles which included two buses, two cars, a trailer loaded with sardines and detergents, one sport utility vehicle, three flat-body trailers, two 20-foot containers, and two PMS tankers.

“Twelve high-tension electric poles were destroyed in the incident. LASEMA is evacuating the carcasses of the burnt vehicle.”

Residents beg Sanwo-Olu to fix bad roads

Meanwhile, residents in the area have appealed to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to come to their aid, adding that the roads in the area were riddled with deep potholes, causing heavy traffic.

A woman, who identified herself as Mrs  Atinuke, while speaking with our correspondent, said, “As you can see, the road is very bad at that particular place. Louts intentionally damage the road so that vehicles will slow down at night for them to rob the occupants. The government needs to intervene.”

Another motorist, Eniola Olugbemi, who said he plied the route daily, said, “The road is so bad. If you ply Apapa Road every day, that place is an eyesore. The Lagos State Government and Governor Sanwo-Olu are not doing anything about that road. It has been like that since the administration of (a former governor, Babatunde) Fashola, but I don’t know whether it is a Federal Government road or not.”

However, an emergency executive and disaster management expert based in the United Kingdom, Salisu Ibrahim, when contacted by Saturday PUNCH, said the first step to averting fire disasters and explosions was fixing the road systems in the country.

He also advised the government to set up a mini-emergency station in the area to help combat and curtail future occurrences before they became full-blown infernos later on.

He added, “The roads are bad, and since the trucks that ply that route always carry petroleum products, any little impact can cause a fire. The government should know these things.

“Also, the place should be cleared of any residential traces. Human beings and animals should not be living there. Ijora is always a major area with these explosions. I remember there was one in 2020. We must be very careful not to let history repeat itself.

“That road is too congested. Decongesting that area would be one way to save the state man-hours of fire-fighting and millions of naira.”

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