Several persons, including a pregnant woman and a toddler, have been reportedly burnt to death in an early morning fire at the popular Bonny-Bille-Nembe jetty in the Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Several fibre and wooden boats are also said to be destroyed in the inferno which started at about 2 am on Monday.
The cause of the massive blaze is not known. However, previous fire outbreaks at the jetty had been attributed to the storage of inflammable substances like petroleum products used in powering the speed boat engines in makeshift buildings within the slump.
The last fore outbreak at the jetty was in November during which several persons were burnt and properties estimated at several millions of naira, destroyed.
The jetty is usually a busy transit point for thousands of residents traveling from Port Harcourt by sea to Bonny, Bille, Nembe, and other riverine communities.
The effects of these disasters are usually massive due to slow response to emergencies by the authorities or difficulties accessing the scene due to the terrain.
The source said: “They have warned these people not to be carrying diesel and fuel inside the boat. Now see what has happened.
“I am sure that many people died, even a pregnant woman and a baby. Around 2am I and my friend came out after we heard a large sound like explosion. Some people were sleeping”.
Another source, who identified herself as Princess, insisted that many of the dead victims could not be accounted for
She said: “Many people died because we have not seen some women. About 30 people may have died. But they have seen two children. For the boats that got burnt, we can’t even count them”.
A woman, who escaped with her two children but lost her five-month- old, narrated her ordeals.
She said: “We were surprised when we saw a large fire and people started running. I started calling the manager to help me rescue this child I am carrying. He didn’t answer me, so I carried one of them and jumped inside the river.
“Before I know one Hausa man throws a rope and asks me to hold the rope. That was how I came out. So they ask me if there were other children in the boat. I told them yes.
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“So they entered the river and brought my other child. But I told them that my smallest child was still inside. But they didn’t see that one”.
Another crying woman said she went out to get something only to return and saw the fire, lamenting that her two year old son was missing.
She said: “I didn’t have any money on me. So a woman gave me to buy rice. As I returned I saw huge fire in the boat. I entered inside but I didn’t see my child.
“I started shifting backwards as the fire was spreading in my direction. I saw a woman in the river calling for help. So I jumped into the river and helped the woman and her baby.
“I later went to the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital. A nurse told me to check if my child was there. I saw some children, but I told her that my son was wearing a long sleeve shirt”.
Rivers Acting Police spokesman, Grace Iringe-koko confirmed the incident.
She said: “Yes, we are aware of the fire. But we are still trying to get the exact casualty figure”.