No fewer than 18 people, including a pregnant woman, have lost their lives following an explosion in an illegal oil refining site in the Ibas community in the Emuoha Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Twenty-five others at the scene were injured when the inferno broke out Sunday night, Oct. 1.
A video from the scene of the fire showed remains of children, men and women littering the scene.
The incident occurred when some people in the community were scooping petroleum products.
The Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Basil Igwebueze, and Emuoha Local Government Area Chairman, Chidi Lloyd, confirmed the incident.
Igwebueze gave the death toll of 18, but a community source said it was 33.
The commandant said a pregnant woman, the son of the illegal refinery operator and an about-to-wed lady were among those burnt to ashes.
He said while the owner of the refinery, John Bodo, sustained severe injury, his son, Uche, who graduated recently from a tertiary institution, died on the spot.
Igwebueze said: “The fire outbreak 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 temperature eventually became too high and the environment gutted fire. We also gathered that the cooking pot belonged to one Mr. John Bodo, who sustained severe fire injuries while his son, Uche John 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. “
The commandant decried the unrepentant nature of those dealing illegally in petroleum products through the construction and operation of local refineries.
He said: “It is disheartening that the more we dismantle these illegal refineries, the more people engage in such unscrupulous activities.
“The fire disaster 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 oil bunkering in our various communities. “
While condoling with the affected families, the commandant warned those operating illegal refineries across the state to have a rethink.
A resident in the community, who gave his name as Emmanuel Daniel, said the victims were selling the product at the refining site when the place suddenly went up in flames. Emmanuel put the number of those burnt to death at 33 and said that 15 injured persons were rushed to the hospital.
Emmanuel said, “More than 40 people were there at the site. They were there scooping crude oil when the place caught fire. The fire came from a refining site that was close to the point where they were scooping crude oil.
“Many Isiokpo and Oduoha people and Ibaa people were there. Seven of the people died inside the pit where they were scooping the crude. About 10 were burnt to charcoal by the pit.
“About 30 people died at the site while over 15 have been rushed to the hospital. I hear that three of them have died while they were being rushed to the hospital.”