President Muhammadu Buhari last night in Abuja commiserated with families, who lost their loved ones, and others affected by yesterday’s explosion in Abule Ado, Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said in a statement that the president expressed his sadness over the incident and condoled with the Lagos State government and all residents, who were affected by the explosion that left 15 dead and destroyed over 50 vehicles and buildings.
“I have received with sadness the news of this unfortunate incident, which caused loss of lives and property,” the president was quoted as saying, adding: “A misfortune of whatever scale anywhere is a tragedy to the country, and while the NNPC makes efforts to determine the cause of the incident, I send my deepest and profound sympathies to the victims, their families, government and people of Lagos State.”
THISDAY gathered that some students from Bethlehem Girls College and their principal, who were said to be having morning devotion when the blast occurred, were also feared dead.
Scores of others suffered varying degrees of injuries in the explosion which destroyed over 50 cars and houses.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said the explosion occurred after a truck hit some gas cylinders stacked in a gas processing plant located near the corporation’s system 2B Pipeline’s Right of Way (RoW).
The Lagos State Government, which has ordered security agents to investigate the incident, however, said it would tarry awhile for a report of the probe before taking further steps.
The explosion, which was heard about 20 kilometres away from the scene of the incident, was initially thought to be pipeline or bomb blast.
THISDAY checks revealed that the explosion was caused by gas leakage that formed gas clouds in the sky and upon contact with naked fire, spiraled into flames.
Before emergency responders could get to the scene, the explosion had already ruptured the NNPC pipeline that runs through the suburb, aggravating the damage.
It was the contact of fire with the petroleum products in the ruptured pipeline that exacerbated the explosion and spread to residential buildings, schools and churches in the area.
Emergency responders were drawn from the Lagos State Fire Service, Nigerian Navy Fire Service, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), the police, Red Cross, Lagos State Ambulance Services (LASAMBUS) and others.
A combined effort from a team comprising officials of the Lagos State Fire Service and the Nigerian Navy Fire Service were able to put out the raging fire and rescued those trapped.
According to acting Coordinator, Lagos Territorial Office, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, the bodies recovered include a family of four, who were heading to church before they were caught in the explosion. The family comprised the husband, his wife and two sons.
Although emergency responders could not peg the casualty rate at Bethlehem Girls College, they said about 16 schoolgirls reportedly died along with their principal.
Emergency responders with the help of locals, however, rescued 60 survivors and they have since been taken to the Nigerian Navy Reference Hospital (NNRH) in Navy Town.
The deceased students were said to have been in the chapel for morning mass when the explosion occurred.
A staff of Bethlehem Girls College identified the dead staff as the headmistress, Rev. Sister Henrietta Alokha; the chaplain, who represented the Rev. Father to conduct the mass, an administrator, and one of the kitchen hands.
She said: “Sister Henrietta was helping to evacuate the girls when she died. The male administrator was breaking the walls for the girls to escape through and it’s so sad that he couldn’t make it out.
“Most of the students are fine although they sustained bruises. The head girl sustained bruises on her head.”
But before responders reached the scene, the locals had scaled the fence to bring the girls out.
Some residents, who spoke to THISDAY, said their initial fear was that an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) had been set off given the shocking way their houses shook, windows broke and even roofs flew off.
A resident, Mrs. Nonye Ezirim, a mother of two, said: “I was in my house preparing for second service when the explosion happened. I quickly ran to my children’s room and ran down the stairs because at that point, I didn’t know what caused it.
“The foundation of our house shook; our windows broke too. I didn’t take anything as my concern was the safety of my kids and me.”
Another resident, Mr. Biodun Akosile, who said his house was one of those destroyed, told THISDAY that it was high time the government regulated the type of commercial activities that could take place in residential areas, especially high density suburbs like Abule Ado.
He said: “Imagine just one area with pipeline and gas depot. We have been battling with pipeline vandals and their acts of vandalism in the area but no one ever thought the gas depot will cause more harm. Shouldn’t there be regulations by the relevant authorities?”
Speaking to THISDAY, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Oladele Daji, who was on the ground during the rescue operation, said the explosion was caused by gas leakage.
Daji, who had also gone to the NNRH in Navy Town, for an on-the-spot assessment, said they attended to the initial 50 survivors plus the four extra persons brought in by the Red Cross.
Although he could not confirm the casualty figure touted by emergency responders, he said for the navy, three were brought in dead- two females and a male.
On the state of the schoolgirls rescued from Bethlehem Girls College, he said they had all been stabilised except a few that needed follow up.
Debunking claims that the dead schoolgirls were brought to Navy Hospital, he said: “None that we know of was brought in dead.”
On the casualties, he said: “Three people were brought in dead – two females and a male. The hospital also received and attended to casualties from the explosion site. 55 persons were attended to, comprising 36 school children and 19 adults.
“One of the adults had about 35 per cent mixed degree burns with inhalation injuries and pulmonary edema. He has been admitted into the Intensive Care Unit and connected to a ventilator.
“Seven other adults and two children are on admission in the wards. Two adults had Traumatic Brain Injury and were referred to LUTH for neurosurgical intervention. The remaining 43 have been treated and discharged.”
On the cause of explosion he said: “It was caused by gas leakage. When we came here, we saw so many gas cylinders scattered all over.
“The explosion now ruptured the gas pipeline that runs through there and it led to the fire. Gas and petroleum does not flow. Those that are selling gas here have refused to know that what they are doing is deadly.”
Farinloye also ruled out pipeline vandalism as the cause of the blast.
He said: “Emergency responders were immediately deployed in the scene and NNPC were contacted to shut down the pipeline passing through the area as a precautionary measure.”
Reacting to the incident, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Gbenga Omotosho, told THISDAY that the state government was awaiting the result of investigation.
When asked if the explosion originated from a factory, he said: “The explosion happened about 200 metres from the factory. The explosion must have occurred from the homes of people hoarding petroleum products and in the process triggered a chain effect. Those who died did not die as a result of the explosion but the effect caused by it, including shocks.
“The state government cannot do any policy statement right now until we know what happened. Security agencies are investigating what happened. Let’s see what they will come up with.”