Akinpelu Dada, John Ameh, Success Nwogu, Samson Folarin, Olaleye Aluko, Deji Lambo, Oluwatosin Omojuyigbe and John Charles
The death toll in the Abule-Ado explosion in Lagos rose to 20 on Monday, as many families continued to search for their missing relatives.
Our correspondents also learnt that 50 pupils of the Bethlehem Girls College were injured in the incident.
PUNCH Metro had reported that an explosion, which rocked the community on Sunday, left 17 people dead.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation had said the explosion was caused by a truck, which hit a stack of gas cylinders.
The impact of the explosion destroyed over 50 houses and many cars parked in the area.
Boarding pupils of the Bethlehem Girls College were trapped when the building, where a Mass was being celebrated collapsed. The Principal of the school, Rev. Sr. Henrietta Alokha, was killed while rescuing the schoolgirls.
One of our correspondents, who visited the scene on Monday, gathered that three more corpses were recovered from the rubble of the college building.
It was gathered that the deceased were two cooks in the school, one of whom was identified simply as Irene, and a security guard.
The Director General, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, while speaking at the scene, said the death toll had risen to 20.
He said, “Fifty-seven persons were rescued and eight discharged from hospital. One is still at the Intensive Care Unit of the Naval Hospital. Three bodies were recovered this morning, bringing the number of casualties to 20.”
More details also emerged on the identities of those who died in the explosion.
Couple billed to travel to Canada, CDA chair among the dead
A newly-wed couple, Emmanuel and Chisom Udoakonobi, who were supposed to travel to Canada today (Tuesday), were said to have been killed after the pillar of their building fell on their car.
PUNCH Metro gathered that Chisom was three months’ pregnant.
One of the tenants in the house, Ademola, who stated that he moved into the house two weeks ago, said he escaped death by a whisker.
He said, “I saw my girlfriend off to the bus stop around 7.30am. When I came back, I could not recognise the house again, as there were flames everywhere.
“I am left with the only clothes on me. My certificates and other valuables have been destroyed by the fire that followed the explosion. I don’t know where to start from now. But I thank God that my life was spared. A lot of people lost their lives and some people are still trapped in the building.”
PUNCH Metro gathered that the Chairman of the Abule-Ado Community Development Association, Obi Chikezie, his wife and their son also died in the explosion.
It was gathered that the son, identified simply as Joseph, was planning his wedding when the tragedy struck.
A business partner of the late Obi, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told PUNCH Metro that he spoke with him hours before the explosion.
He said, “We had been communicating since Saturday, because he wanted me to supply granite to one of the sites he was working on; around 6am on Sunday, I called him to send one of the boys, who worked for him, to pick the truck driver at the gate to the site.
“I called him back around 7.30am to ask if the truck had dropped the granite and he said yes. Around 9am, I heard a loud noise from my house on the 7th Avenue and I thought it was something else that happened, not knowing that it was an explosion.
“I later saw flames going up and I tried calling Obi’s number, but it was not going through. I called other people that I know in the area, but none of their numbers went through.
“I came here and saw that Obi’s building had been brought down, while he, his wife and son were trapped in their car. This is a sad one, because plans had been made for his son’s wedding. The son had done the traditional marriage.”
We’ll resettle pupils in other schools – Martins
The Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, owners of the Bethlehem Girls College, said all the pupils were rescued.
The church, in a statement by Archbishop Alfred Martins, said it was making provisions for all the pupils to be admitted in other schools so that their education would not be affected.
Martins stated, “Unfortunately, the Administrator of the school, Rev. Sr. Dr. Henrietta Alokha, SSH, and one female security guard died in the process of ensuring that the pupils were safe.
“Sr. Henrietta Alokha, SSH, and the other staff members, who died, paid the supreme price in their bid to lead all the pupils to safety. May their souls rest in peace. It is important to confirm that no priest died during the incident. The priest, who was celebrating the Mass, helped in rescuing the pupils and he is safe.
“Unfortunately, the staff quarters, the administrative building, the refectory and hostel buildings were levelled to the ground as a result of the impact of the explosion with no essential building standing except the convent housing the nuns in charge of the school.”
The Director of Education the archdiocese, Msgr. Jerome Oduntan, told PUNCH Metro that although no pupil died in the incident, three were recuperating in hospital.
He said, “We have a population of 268 pupils, but because of the stampede, 50 of them sustained injuries and we took them to hospital, where they were treated.
“Most of the students are now at home with their parents, but we still have two undergoing treatment at the Naval Hospital and one at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja.
“I am still gathering information on the number of staff members, who have yet to be accounted for. We have about 80 workers, including teaching and non-teaching staff members.”
Girl rescued from rubble, families mourn deceased members
The Chairman of the Red Cross, Lagos branch, Adebola Kolawole, said a girl, identified as Favour, was found under the rubble unscathed.
She said, “We rescued Favour under the rubble with no injury; she was naked and people told us that her mother and brother had been taken to hospital. Her mother is recuperating in hospital.”
However, one of our correspondents observed as many residents wailed, while searching for their loved ones.
A middle-aged woman, Ganiya Adegbola, who was looking for her son, identified as Segun, recalled that the explosion happened immediately she finished speaking with him on the telephone.
“He called me yesterday (Sunday) around 9am and told me that he was working in this area and not long after that call, we heard the explosion. I didn’t even know that it was of this magnitude until his brother called me that he had not seen him and I have been looking for him since then,” she stated.
A 20-year-old man, who identified himself as Chidiebere, who was weeping uncontrollably, told PUNCH Metro that he got to know about his family members’ death on Monday morning.
He said, “I left home very early on Sunday to go to church, because I am a chorister, and I thought that my parents and two sisters would meet me in the church as usual, but they were unable to escape the explosion.
“I have been looking for them since Sunday until a neighbour told me this morning that all my family members died. I have no other family I can run to; I am the only one left now.”
A man, Haruna Kani-Baba, who was at the scene to look for his brother, a security guard at the Bethlehem Girls College, said he had visited several hospitals and mortuaries without any result.
A woman, who noted that her daughter worked as a security guard in the school, said her telephone had been ringing under the rubble.
Some members of the community, who spoke with PUNCH Metro, faulted the claim by the NNPC that the explosion was caused by a truck that hit some gas cylinders in a gas processing plant near its System 2B pipeline’s right of way.
The residents claimed that there was more to the explosion.
One of them, Bob Osiobi, urged the government to investigate the cause of the incident.
He stated, “I want the government to get to the root of the explosion because I have not seen something like this before.
“They should let us know if it was a bomb that exploded, because people are living in fear now. We want to know what we are dealing with.
“The extent of the damage was more than what a gas explosion can cause. How can an explosion uproot a building from its foundation? There’s more to this.”
Another resident, Obinna Jude, who claimed to be among the first responders, urged the relevant agencies to investigate the incident.
He said, “When I came back from church around 8.45am, I heard a sound and people were speculating that it was a transformer that blew off. But when I came out, I saw that it was a massive explosion.”
A video emerged on Monday purportedly showing liquified gas escaping from a compound just minutes before the explosion.
2,500 vehicles were destroyed
The Chairman, Nigeria Automobile Technicians Association, Trade Fair Mechanic Village, Muhammed Olawuyi, said the explosion made members of the body incur debts, adding that the value of property destroyed in the village was over N500m.
He stated, “Our customers believe that we are to secure their vehicles, so we are the ones to bear the loses. Even if they want to assist, it is going to be little. Some cars were squeezed.
“There was an oven that was just put up last December for N15m. Someone empowered one of the mechanics with the oven and asked him to pay back in instalments, but the explosion scattered the oven and three others. About 2,500 vehicles were destroyed; we had to start driving some of the vehicles away from here while the fire was still burning.”
‘My two houses collapsed’
A landlord, Jude Eigbefoh, said two of his buildings collapsed, adding that vandals took advantage of the situation to invade his home and steal his belongings.
The 51-year-old stated, “I was in church when I heard the explosion, but when I came home, I saw that my two houses had been brought down. I had to break the back gate and pass through the back door to get to the sitting room.
“Surprisingly, when I entered, I could not find my television, laptops, mobile phones and refrigerator, because vandals had stolen them. As old as I am, I went to sleep in someone’s house.”
A landlady, Chiamaka Okeke, said her family had been sleeping in an uncompleted building, because of the impact of the explosion on their building.
FG’ll support victims – Gbajabiamila
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, during a visit to the scene on Monday, said the victims would have the full support of the Federal Government.
He said, “That 20 people died in the inferno is a big loss to the nation and the state. I want to assure the residents once again that we are not going to abandon you at this point, because this is your government.
“I don’t want to know where those, who were involved in the tragic incident, came from; we are all one. This is not the time to shift blames, rather to take stock of what happened and find solutions to it.”
Sanwo-Olu sets up N2bn relief fund, briefs Buhari
The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who visited the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) at the State House, Abuja, to brief him on the disaster, said he had set up a N2bn relief fund to address emergency needs in the Abule-Ado area.
He noted that a committee headed by the deputy governor of the state had been constituted to investigate the incident and come up with recommendations within two weeks.
“The incident was really unfortunate. It’s not something that you would wish anyone. The entire community is like a war zone,” he added.
The Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, sympathised with Sanwo-Olu, the government of Lagos State as well as the families of the victims of the explosion.
Ortom, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, described the incident as sad, unfortunate and shocking.
CAN seeks punishments for wrongdoers
The Christian Association of Nigeria asked the Federal and the Lagos State Government to investigate the disaster.
CAN, in a statement on Monday, noted that the outcome of the investigation must be followed by “disciplinary action” to avoid future disasters.
The CAN President, Dr Samson Ayokunle, condemned the “transportation of explosive devices in the country without adequate preventive measures.”
He said in a statement, “The outcome of the investigation will as well allow disciplinary action to be taken against any act of negligence or criminality that caused the avoidable disaster. Human lives are too precious to be wasted this way.
“Again, we condemn in strong terms the transportation of explosive devices in the country without adequate preventive measures. It is high time all the agencies of the government were alive to their responsibilities.”
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Fidelity Bank Plc, Mr Nnamdi Okonkwo, also commiserated with traders and others victims of the explosion.
Accompanied by the bank’s executive management staff members, Okonkwo, who visited the affected area, was received by the leaders of the Balogun Business Association, the Auto Spare Parts and Machinery Dealers Association and the Association of Progressive Traders.
Proceed to Lagos immediately, PDP tells Buhari
On its part, the Peoples Democratic Party urged Buhari to immediately proceed to Lagos to give succour to the victims and reassure Nigerians.
The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement also accused Buhari of displaying “embarrassing lethargic approach to governance and the welfare of Nigerians.”
He stated that with such a national calamity and attendant loss of lives and property, it was strange that a leader could remain distant, adding that Buhari preferred to wait “in the comfort of Aso Rock to be presented with photographs of the ugly incident.”
The PDP spokesman also called for a forensic investigation into the spate of explosions in the country, particularly the Abule-Ado disaster, given the conflicting reports on the cause of the incident.
Lagos Assembly seeks probe
Members of the Lagos State House of Assembly, during plenary on Monday, called on the governor to order a probe of the fatal explosion and ensure that the perpetrators were brought to justice.
The House also called on Sanwo-Olu to direct the Lands Bureau to investigate the allocation of plots of land to residents, who built on pipelines’ right of way in Abule-Ado and other parts of the state without proper approval from the government.