Tragedy struck at the Upper Iweka Roundabout in the commercial city of Onitsha, Anambra State, on Sunday when a fuel tanker rammed into a building and caused an inferno.
It was gathered that no fewer than 50 persons, including a pregnant woman and some children, were burnt by the fire, which also consumed about 15 buses.
Our correspondents learnt that some “ newspaper free readers”, at newsstands were among the victims.
Eyewitnesses said that one of the buses was loading passengers in a park near the scene of the incident when the flames consumed it and three motorcycles at about 3pm.
One of them, who gave his name simply as Okechukwu, said the driver of the tanker was descending the Upper Iweka Road from the Enugu-Nkpor Road when he lost control of the vehicle.
He added, “We learnt that the tanker suffered a brake failure and the driver lost control.
“I think he tried to stop the vehicle with some of the barriers on the road, but unfortunately the tanker rammed into a building and fell.”
Okechukwu said the tanker caught fire 10 minutes after ramming into the building. He added that the tanker was on its way to Asaba in Delta State when the incident happened.
It was gathered that the inferno attracted many residents of the city who were helpless. Many of them reportedly resorted to crying.
Another eyewitness, Joseph Ugwuanyi, on his Facebook page wrote, “At about 1pm to 2pm, a fuel tanker rammed into the busy Asaba Park in Upper Iweka Road, Onitsha, and went up in flames, maiming scores. The fire lasted for approximately an hour before firefighters were able to control it.
“Many of us initially thought there were no casualties, though some people sustained serious injuries while fleeing the scene.
“However, it was later learnt after the fire subsided that there was a massive carnage of victims who were either caught unawares or those who were already seated in the now charred buses in the park.
“They reportedly were burnt beyond recognition in the hour-long intense fire.”
The Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Hosea Karma, who visited the scene of the incident with senior police officers of the command, could be seen directing the evacuation of the charred remains of the victims.
As of 5.15pm, charred bodies were still being evacuated from the area by security and para-military operatives as well as officers of the Federal Road Safety Corps.
Karma described the incident as “tragic and unfortunate.”
He said the tanker was coming from Oguta Road and was trying to link up with Owerri Road when the driver lost control .
The Commissioner of Police said, “All the persons inside the buses ─ I think about 12 buses ─ were burnt beyond recognition.
“Scores of other victims, who were still alive, were immediately rushed to a nearby hospital.
“We cannot state the number of those involved in the incident because we are still working. The number will come after the end of the evacuation.”
It was gathered that the Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, broke down in tears at the scene of the incident.
The state Commissioner for Transport, Chief Chuma Mbonu, described the incident as unfortunate.
He said the information with the government was that 14 vehicles were burnt, while scores of people were trapped.