*CSO Ibaa community,Chief Rufus Welekwe,says 37 persons died so far
*NSCDC says death is 18 and 25 injured
Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcourt
A pregnant woman, the son of the owner of the illegal refining site and a woman about-to-wed next month were among those burnt to death at the Sunday night explosion at Ibaa community in Emohua local government area of Rivers State.
The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) stated this in a press statement signed by Olufemi Ayodele, the Spokesman of the Command.
NSCDC said that the “cooking pot” that exploded belonged to one John Obodo who sustained severe burns while his son, Uche Obodo who was also burnt beyond recognition in the disaster died at the spot. Uche Obodo is a fresh graduate of one of the tertiary institutions.
Ayodele, who provided this information in a statement released in Port Harcourt, condemned for the incident reported that 18 individuals lost their lives in the blaze, while 25 people were successfully rescued by NSCDC operatives.
On the cause of the incident, he said preliminary investigations on the Sunday night inferno show that it was caused by a local refinery cooking pot constructed close to an oil reservoir that contained combustible materials.
He said the burning temperature eventually became too high and ignited fire and explosion.
The statement reads, “Thus, the fire disaster which occurred in Ibaa community is highly condemnable and uncalled for.There is a need for conscious effort and stronger collaborations with the traditional institutions, community youths, and religious leaders amongst others to fight against oil bunkering activities in our various communities and this begins with giving credible intelligence and information to the NSCDC, the lead agency in the fight against vandalism of oil pipelines and protection of critical national assets and infrastructures in Rivers State”.
“The State NSCDC Commandant, Basil Igwebueze, hinted that information gathered suffice that the fire incident started at a very late hour hence 18 victims were burnt beyond recognition while 25 injured persons were rescued.
“From our preliminary findings, it was gathered that the inferno was caused by a local refinery cooking pot constructed close to an oil reservoir which contained combustible materials, the burning temperature eventually became too high and the environment gutted fire.”
Continuing, he said, “We also gathered that the cooking pot belonged to one Mr. John Bodo who sustained severe fire injuries while his son, Uche Bodo, a fresh graduate, died on the spot.
“It is also lamentable to relay that most of the victims were youths; then a pregnant woman and a young lady getting ready for her marriage ceremony next month were all casualties.”
While condoling with the affected families; the NSCDC state Commandant warned against the activities of illegal local refineries in communities across the state.
Igwebueze further said such negative activities cause huge damage to the environment and ‘irreparable loss’.
“Therefore, critical stakeholders must align and vehemently fight against illegal oil bunkering activities in Rivers State,” he said.
Our Correspondent reports that initial reports from the eyewitnesses from Ibaa community put the figure of casualties to be above 30.
However, the press statement by NSCDC it did not categorically state whether personnel of the Command were at site for a headcount before issuing the statement.
The Chief Security Officer (CSO)of Ibaa community, Chief Rufus Welekwe, has put the figure of the Dead at 37 this morning, Tuesday October 3.
Welekwe who condoled with the families of the dead,regretted the recalcitrance of the victims to heed the warnings of the dangers of “Kponfire” Paramount ruler of the Community,Eze Nwobodo Jonah said that among victims rushed to the hospital additional two of the injured died today, Tuesday, putting the number of the dead at 37 so far.
Earlier, the Paramount ruler of Ibaa community Eze Nwobodo Jonah had told a Port Harcourt based radio station that the number of casualties may be difficult to ascertain because some members of community were still searching for their loved ones.