An oil spill and a consequent explosion at a fuel dump have killed an undisclosed number of residents in the Okrika Local Government Area of Rivers State.
An eyewitness, who disclosed this to newsmen in Port Harcourt on Thursday, said the incident, which left two fishermen dead, affected aquatic life in the area, with dead fish seen floating on water bodies.
The explosion, it was learned, happened on Monday after a hose used in off-loading Premium Motor Spirit at a Port Harcourt refining company depot was poorly handled by workers, resulting in a spill on July 31.
Reports have it that two fishermen who had gone fishing later that evening with lanterns set off the explosion.
The eyewitness said, “The incident happened close to NAFCON (a moribund fertilizer company) bridge. Two fishermen who went fishing died. It was the lantern they carried that sparked the fire.
“There was a loud sound and fire everywhere; even the boat was burned.
“The following morning, people were catching fish on the river. Some picked them up to 20, 30, and so on, dried them, and started selling.”
Initial reports suggested that 16 people died in the explosion, but the Chairman of Okrika LGA, Akuro Tobin, while confirming the incident to our correspondent on the telephone, said only four people died.
He stated, “It is very unfortunate, and I don’t like discussing this issue. They went there to steal oil (petrol), and the government has been warning against this.
“None of their parents sent them to go and steal oil. They went there on their own. The government has been shouting every day for people to stop stealing oil because oil theft is bad.
“Now four people have died. I am not happy, and I don’t like talking about it.”
An environmental rights advocate, Fyneface Dumnamene, expressed sadness over the loss of lives and called for an investigation into the explosion.
Dumnamene, who is the Executive Director of the Youth and Environmental Advocate Center, stated, “We are more concerned about the people that died and the environmental impact of the incident.
“If there was a spillage of PMS into the environment, it has damaged the aquatic system; it has affected fish in the river; it has affected the sources of livelihood and the farmers within the area.
“It is important for the authorities, the NNPCL, and the refining company to come forward and speak about what has happened so that they can carry out environmental clean-up and be able to determine what has caused the incident and then forestall future occurrences.”