The Abia command of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps has confirmed the death of 19 persons, following Friday’s pipeline explosion in two villages in Osisioma Local Government Area of the state.
The state Commander of the organisation, Benito Eze, confirmed the number of casualties to newsmen in Umuahia.
Eze said that 16 persons, including one woman, died in the explosion that occurred around 2.47 a.m at Umuaduru Village in Umueze Autonomous Community.
He also said that three others died in the fire that occurred at about 3 a.m in a private residence at Umuimo Village in the area.
Narrating the incident, Eze, who said that he visited the scene around 4 a.m., described the incident as unfortunate.
He said that the Umuaduru incident happened when some youths in the area where scooping petroleum products from vandalised pipelines.
He said: “I learnt that they were scooping petroleum products when a spark occurred, leading to an explosion that left 16 natives dead.”
Eze further said that the fire at Umuimo happened when a woman, identified as a food vendor, got up at about 3 a.m. to start cooking for the day’s business.
He said: “I gathered that the family stored petrol in the house and that it caught fire when the woman wanted to set up fire for cooking.
“The fire razed down the whole house but the woman and her husband did not die but managed to escape with burns.”
The civil defence boss said that the couple had been taken to a hospital for medical attention.
News Agency of Nigeria learnt that three military personnel were among the deceased.
Eze, however, declined confirmation, saying that “investigations are still ongoing to ascertain whether they were among or not”.
He said that the command had deployed its personnel to cordon off the scene to forestall more casualties.
NAN learnt that the fire was later put out by men of the state fire service.
When NAN visited the scene of the explosion, the charred remains of the deceased persons had all been removed by their relations for burial.
Chief Thomas Onyekwere, the Traditional Prime Minister of Umueze autonomous community, said that the community was mourning their loved ones who died in the fire.
Onyekwere described the incident as painful, saying that he lost two of his close relations.
Also speaking at the scene, Chief Kennedy Njoku, representing Osisioma Constituency in the Abia State House of Assembly, said that he was saddened by the unfortunate incident.
Njoku, who said that he came to the scene to see things for himself.
“It is a black Friday,” he said, adding that it was unimaginable that people could take such a big risk to make economic gain.
He said that the incident could have been averted if the security operatives deployed for surveillance along the pipelines “were alive to their duty”.