For property owners at Ehere community, along Ikot Ekpene road, Monday, October 16, is a day they may never forget in their lives. It was a day they lost their property to tanker fire incident.
Over 25 shops were razed with property worth over N100 million as a tanker laden with petrol went up in flames in the area.
When the fire died down, 25 shops had been brunt to ashes with goods belonging to 30 roadside traders.
Though no life was lost to the inferno, over three cars parked by the roadside were burnt beyond recognition as the Fire Service was alleged to have arrived the area when the fire had razed the shops.
Victims recount ordeal: One of the victims, Udoka Samuel, told South-East Voice that he had stocked his shop for seasonal sales two days before the incident, lamenting that all efforts to save the goods were unsuccessful due to the intensity of the inferno.
Samuel added that he lost property worth over N3 million to the fire. "We saw the tanker wading through the flooded craters on the road. The driver suddenly stopped and disembarked. Within two seconds, there was an explosion. Everywhere was up in flames. People abandoned their shops and scampered to safety. The fire spread to nearby shops. Some people were using muddy water to fight the fire but later ran away as it became intense. Efforts to contact the Fire Service failed. This tanker exploded because of the deplorable state of the road, it could not wade through because the road was bad. Now, my shop has been burnt to ashes, nothing was saved. Where do I start from? Government should come to our aid because the loss is too huge for us to bear. The bad state of the road had brought sorrow to business owners in this area. About 25 shops were razed. If the Federal Government had rehabilitated this road, this tanker would have easily waded through the area without problems."
Another victim of the inferno who had her fashion shop burnt also blamed the incident on the dilapidated state of the road, stressing that all her life's savings and goods were consumed in the fire. A petty trader identified as Jane said she lost cash of N45, 000 to the fire and lamented that efforts to save her goods failed due to the strength of the inferno.
Another victim, Madam Ihuoma, who runs a popular restaurant in the area, appears to have been worst hit in the incident.
According to a source, "Madam Ihuoma had about five refrigerators stocked with food and drinks; but they were consumed by the inferno. Her chairs and money were burnt; no pin was saved from her two shops. It is a bitter experience."
A cross section of other traders whose shops were consumed in the incident, said it would be difficult for them to recover from what they lost and appealed to the state government to come to their aid.
Tension as students scamper to safety: The incident which occurred at about 2pm caused tension in the area as some school opened their gates and ordered students to escape. It was a repeat of the monkey pox incident as parents stormed neighbouring school, searching for their children.
An eyewitness told South-East Voice that some primary school students were injured while others went missing but were later rescued at the Umudukwu area at about 5pm.
Incident caused by bad road: Some residents of Ehere community blamed the incident on the deplorable state of the Aba-Ikot Ekpene road and urged the federal and state governments to urgently commence palliative works on the road.
They, however, expressed dissatisfaction that Gov. Ikpeazu who visited the scene of the incident, could not make a statement on the deplorable condition of the road.
"The tanker was carrying petrol. The driver ran into one of the big gullies on the road and jumped down. Before one knew what was happening, there was an explosion and fire outbreak which consumed nearby shops. It is amazing that no life was lost in the fire, we give glory to God. Some of the victims may never recover from what they lost to the inferno. This incident would not have happened if the road was in good shape. If the government had rehabilitated the road, this tanker would have easily waded through the area without problems. This is why we are calling on the federal and state governments to urgently rehabilitate the Aba-Ikot Ekpene road to save lives and property. We know that Aba - Ikot Ekpene road is a federal highway but the state government can sponsor palliative works to make it passable."
Traditional ruler of Ehere community, Eze Young Nwangwa, who urged the federal and state governments to rehabilitate the Aba-Ikot Ekpene road, solicited the support of the government for the victims to enable them restart their businesses.
Abia State governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, has visited the scene of the incident which gutted over 25 shops. Addressing the victims during the visit, Ikpeazu thanked God that no life was lost and pledged to assist them to get back to their businesses.
He, however, explained that no one can replace all the victims had lost in the incident and directed the youth leader of the community, Mr. Enyinnaya Lazarus, to send the names and telephone numbers of the affected traders to his office.
"I share your pains with you in this tragic incident. While we thank God that nobody died, we may not be able to replace all you lost here, but we will surely assist those affected to return quickly to business. Enyinnaya will get me the names and telephone numbers of the affected traders. We will support them to get back to their businesses," the governor said.
Mr. Enyinnaya Lazarus commended the governor for his promise to assist the traders to get back to their businesses.