Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Tears flowed freely in Umuebe village, Ezzamgbo community, in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, recently. Kerosene explosions in different locations claimed two children and gravely injured two others.
The first incident, which took place in the evening of Monday, August 20, involved a 34-year-old widow, while the second on Thursday, August 23, involved the deceased children and their 17-year-old uncle.
The names of the deceased are Joy and Joshua Ituma, six and four, respectively, while the injured are Uchenna Idoko, 17, and Mrs. Christiana Idenyi, 34. Apart from the widow, other victims were rushed to
the second division of the Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki (FETHA 2).
Ever since it happened, the parents, relatives, friends and well-wishers of the deceased, who were the only children of their parents, have been in mourning. According to neighbours of the second victims, the kerosene explosion occurred when one of them wanted to light a lantern.
They said that the family had bought kerosene at a filling station located at a popular junction in Ezzamgbo. The kerosene was suspected to be adulterated. It was the same story with the widow who also bought kerosene from the same filling station. The mother of three, whose legs were severely burnt, told Daily Sun that the explosion occurred immediately she struck the match.
“I went to the filling station and bought the kerosene. I poured it into the lamp when I returned. Immediately I struck a match, it exploded. As you can see, my legs, hands, and other parts of my body were burnt.
“Right now, I depend on alms to survive. We don’t have anything. I sell groundnuts at the market,” Idenyi said.
A neighbour of the bereaved family, Mrs. Juliet Igwebuike, who was a witness, narrated the incident to Daily Sun. She said: “I was just coming back from church. I went inside to change when I started hearing shouts calling for help. I thought he was quarrelling with his sister. But the boy kept shouting ‘help!’ ‘It’s fire o!’ So, I rushed out immediately. He was already outside the room trying to put out the fire on him.
“There was no way to enter the room. I checked the door net and it was locked. I checked the window, it was locked too. Later, the other man took courage and broke the door net that was locked. The boy had earlier broken the window glass and jump out.
“He kept screaming that his brothervand sister – his cousins actually – were inside. One Calabar man in the house, my neighbour, went inside with courage. The other man also moved in also.
“I was standing at the window. They threw out the first child, a girl, through the window and I picked her and poured water on her.
Later they threw out the second child, a boy, and I also poured water on him.
“As I was doing that, the fire was raging everywhere but it didn’t spread to other apartments.”
She also confirmed that some other residents who bought kerosene from that station in the past have suffered a similar fate.
An uncle to the deceased kids, Mr. Chukwudi Idoko, confirmed that the injured teenager was his younger brother. He said the boy had visited his immediate elder sister, Nneka, to spend the holiday with her family.
“When the schools went on holiday, my younger brother left Obobo village to my sister’s house to assist my sister. She trades in babies’ wears and her husband is a commercial bus driver.
“He is the one that takes care of the children. When they bought the kerosene, they poured it in the lantern. Immediately he struck the matches to light it, it exploded and everywhere went up in flames,” he said.
When Daily Sun visited the area, policemen had cordoned off the filling station. The police public relations officer in the state, ASP Loveth Odah, said the facility’s manager, Emmanuel, and the kerosene pump attendant, Anayo, have been arrested.
She said some samples have been taken from the facility for laboratory tests by experts in petroleum products.
The chief consultant at the Burns and Plastic Surgery unit of FETHA, Dr. Nnadozie Ugochukwu, told Daily Sun that a team of six doctors and nurses spent eight hours battling to save the lives of the victims.
“The four-year-old was 100 per cent burnt while the six-year-old was about 95 per cent burnt. The only thing that remained was a little part of her hairs. The 17-year-old boy sustained about 57 per cent burns. And because they stayed so long inside that place, they had
difficulty in breathing even by the time they came. “We were able to stabilise them. We admitted some to our acute burn unit.
Unfortunately, because of the degree of burns and the age of the younger ones, they died, but the other one is still in our acute burn unit receiving care,” he said. “The challenge we have is mainly poverty because, since they came, all that has been used on these ones were
consumables from the hospital.
“What is needed for these burns cases is a lot of things that we don’t have here. If we have all that it will take, we know that it is possible to save this one that is 57 percent because it is actually a major burn.
“Burns that are more than 15 or 25 percent should actually be a state case, but in our country there is no national policy on burns and fire just like you know. It is easier to talk about our accidents and other things that easily attract people’s attention.
“As a society, the National Association of Plastic, Aesthetic, and Reconstructive Surgeons has been trying to see if it will be possible for government to include fire disaster and burns injury in the national policy.
“This is because I can comfortably tell you that somebody who has more than 25 per cent burn at a level of a director, it will destabilize their family to be able to take care of that person very well let alone 57 per cent.
“And from this background, this thing happened at Ezzamgbo and that will tell you the economic level of the people that were involved. It is something that will need significant support from good-spirited individuals to save the life of this our fellow Nigerian.
“If government has that national policy on burns and fire, it would be possible to seek assistance in fire incidence even from outside the country. When you are making reference to any outsider, he will like to know what you have on board.
“Like I talked about the cost implication, if it is part of that policy that once there is something more than about 25 per cent it should be a state case, we won’t be dependent on the victim or his family for funding. We have a burn centre in Enugu but it needs support as much as we equally need support.
“Major specific things to take care of this patient like some special dressing agents to minimise pain on him. To reduce the degree of dressing; to minimize the infection on his person, those kinds of things need some advanced dressing materials that can last for about 10 days without having the need to dress it again. That would minimise pain,” Nnadozie explained.