27 December 2012

Nigeria: One Dead, Scores Injured in Lagos Fireworks Warehouse Explosion

A yet-to-be identified female teenager was Wednesday feared dead in the explosion that rocked a fireworks' warehouse at Jankara Market, Isale-Eko, Lagos Island, while several others sustained varying degrees of injuries.

It was learnt that the victim was killed in one of the buildings razed by the inferno that lasted for hours despite efforts to put out the blaze.

The fire had started with an explosion, causing panic among Lagos residents as many had thought a bomb had been detonated in the nation's commercial capital city.

However, the Lagos State Government dismissed claims of a bomb explosion in the city, clarifying that the explosion that triggered the panic was from a warehouse in which fireworks had been stored that went up in flames.

Street urchins and others cashed in on the rowdy situation to go on a looting spree that was halted by the arrival of security agents who arrested no fewer than 20 of the suspected looters.

The inferno from the explosion gutted over 10 buildings and destroyed over 20 cars.

Also, goods worth millions of naira were destroyed as the fire spread wildly to other buildings around the area.

Though fire fighters from the Lagos State Fire Service, Lagos Island East Fire Service and Lagos State Emergency Agency (LASEMA) made concerted efforts to battle the flames, their efforts could not tame the inferno as tongues of flames licked the surrounding buildings.

When THISDAY visited the scene, smoke was billowing from the burnt fireworks while traders expressed fear that the tragedy could worsen if some of the unexploded fireworks in other buildings also went off.

It was gathered that some of the buildings affected by the fire served as either shops or warehouses for electrical accessories, electronics equipment and household items, among other goods.

Debunking claims that the fire service was slow in putting out the fire, Director of the state Fire Service, Mr. Rasaq Fadipe, blamed the rowdy crowd, which besieged the scene, for hampering the efforts of his men in quenching the fire.

According to him, the intensity of the crowd had at first prevented more fire-fighting trucks from moving in to support other fire-fighters.

He said: "The major factor that hindered our service was crowd control. Our fire-fighting vehicles were around but they could not come in here because of the crowd."

Over 20 persons were arrested by policemen from the Lion Building Division as they attempted to loot some of the shops affected by the fire.

THISDAY gathered that since the area is mainly a commercial centre, the inferno attracted many hoodlums who attempted to loot under the guise of rendering help.

Confirming the arrests, the Area Commander, Area 'A' Police Command, Lion Building, Mr. Imohinmi Edgal, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, said some persons were arrested.

He said: "My men have been here since morning and were able to break the wings of those hoodlums who wanted to loot. We are deploying more policemen to this place to ensure maximum security."

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) confirmed the death of one person in the incident.

The agency, in a statement by its Head of Public Relations, Mr. Yushau A. Shuaib, said it had mobilised volunteers to move into the area but that the crowd and heavy traffic delayed them from reaching the place.

He also said at least 15 people were treated for injuries sustained mostly from stampede during the explosion.

He confirmed that a burnt human body was recovered when the search and rescue officers were working at the scene.

The state government faulted initial reports about the incident that linked the explosion to a bomb blast, describing them as false and capable of destabilising the state.

The government, in a statement by Special Adviser on the Media to the governor, Mr. Hakeem Bello, assured all residents of their safety and security as they celebrate the Yuletide season.

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