For the third consecutive time in recent years, expired dangerous gas escaped from cylinders stored at the warehouse of the board, causing deadly explosion and leading to the untimely dead of many persons. Our Correspondent, Golok Nannwa, spoke to some of the survivors who recaptured their experiences on the day of the event.
Saturday morning for the residents of Dogon Karfe, in Jos South Local Government Area, was as normal as any other day. They had high hopes and expectations for a bright day. But all that turned into horror as the water treatment plant, located in the area, suddenly went awry. It was to change the lives of some families for the worst.
A chlorine from a cylinder suddenly exploded at the treatment plant of the Plateau State Water Board in Jos. Many persons unwittingly inhaled the poisonous gas and were rightly choked. According to the acting Chief Medical Director of Plateau State Specialist Hospital, Dr Philemon Golwa, a leakage at the plant was responsible for the deaths of some 12 persons and led also to the hospitalisation of almost 115 others as residents around the water treatment plant inhaled the chemical.
It all started on Friday night at about 11.30 p.m while the residents were asleep. The cylinder containing the gaseous substance exploded as it spewed out deadly gas that enveloped the entire neighbourhood. As the gas spiraled the unsuspected residents, who were mostly abruptly woken from their sleep, they started inhaling the poisonous gas leading to irritation of the respiratory tracks, cough, headache and body weakness. Majority of the victims, at first, were not aware of the source of their discomfort. They thought seeking solace outside their homes would bring relief. It was not to be. Instead, like a victim described, the discomfort increased and they opted to dip their heads in water because the gas was choking their breath.
Majority of those affected were staff of the Nigeria Immigration Service, whose quarters are near the water board plant, medical students of the University of Jos and the National Film Institute. Among the victims were a pregnant woman, a doctoral student, and another second year student of political science at the University of Jos, all of whom were said to be living just behind the treatment plant.
A survivor , Loius Anuka, who narrated her ordeal said, “I was sleeping that night when all of a sudden I could not breath properly. I started inhaling some non-pleasant air and at the same heard people desperately crying and wailings from different houses within the neighbourhood.
“I had to run out of my house. I ran for close to 5 minutes before I started breathing well. I was even devastated when l learnt that we lost some of our neighbours and friends ,” she added.
Another survivor, Franca Charles said “we, in the neighbourhood, thought that it was a terrorist attack. So, I opened the door and started running for safety. However, as I ran towards the British America Junction, my friend ran towards the water board. Sadly, I survived the ordeal but my friend, Ifeoma, did not survive as she died from inhaling the poisonous gas. Her corpse has been deposited at the Plateau hospital mortuary.”
Christian Paul, a 500 level Medical Laboratory student of UNIJOS, who spoke from her hospital bed at the Plateau State Specialist Hospital, said when she perceived the odour, she thought it was a bleaching agent. “I knocked the doors of my friends and we all ran out towards the water board. But we discovered that the stench was coming from there. It became obvious that the further we ran, it stench became stronger, then, we were forced to return.
“The next thing I did was to soak one of my shirts in water and then use it to cover my nose. That hardly suffice because the odour still persisted and permeated the soaked cloth and I was almost choking. As I kept on running, I lost much energy and passed out. Someone just came, picked me and brought me to the hospital. One of my friends could not make it as she passed out and died.”
A survivor, one Mrs Eke, said to be living at the Nigeria Immigration quarters was too weak to speak as she was still on oxygen to stabilise her condition. A 58-year-old guard, Enoh Magaji, his wife Mary, 44, and two children, Jacinta, 18 and Goodluck, are still battling for survival at the Accident and Emergency Ward of the Plateau State Specialist Hospital.
Mr Golwa said others persons affected were receiving treatment for irritation of respiratory tracks, cough, headache and body weakness. Having visited the scene of the incident, Zonal Director of the National Environmental Standards and Regulation Agency (NESRA), Dr William Arabs, confirmed the death toll to be 8, and stated further that 113 persons had been discharged, and noted that 121 persons were admitted after the incident on Saturday. Also, he said both the dead and the wounded are at the Plateau State Specialist Hospital; Our Lady of Apostles Hospital; Bingham University Teaching Hospital and the Air Force Military Hospital, Jos.
The General Manager of the Plateau State Water Board, Lambart Gomzuk, said the quick response of his agency, the Water Resources and Rural Electrification Ministries, was responsible for early evacuation of victims to the hospitals where they are receiving treatment and advised residents to report to any hospital for check-up. He blamed the residents for encroaching into some sensitive areas such as the treatment plant.
The State’s Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, Hanatu Dantong, said the situation had been contained by government agencies. She assured residents that the contamination did not affect the water supply to the public through the main water pipes, stating that it was safe for human consumption. She said efforts were being made to relocate people within such sensitive areas.
Speaking with journalists at the hospital, ex-governor Jonah Jang, a Senator, urged the workers of the Water Board to find a safe way of handling their gas cylinders so that they are not just left carelessly.
“Maybe somebody didn’t know what it was and just went and pull the nozzle out. Now look at what it has caused. So, the Water Board should have been more careful in the way they handle empty gas cylinders and cylinders that carry such dangerous liquids.
“We were hoping before I left government to stop using that kind of gas within the Water Board. Unfortunately, you know we had this very bad financial situation but I am told that the memo that I approved, which we didn’t have money to give them is now being processed to the new government for approval to do away with such dangerous chemical.”
He said that government cannot evacuate the people living within the vicinity, adding that all that government can do is to make sure that an international system of bringing water to the surrounding areas is purchased. “Government should try and get money, even if it means getting loans. If they take loans and change that old system into a modern one, the better for the state.”
Jang said that he was briefed by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, who confirmed that it was a near empty cylinder and the nozzle got open and whatever remained in the empty cylinder started gushing out.
He ruled out any act of sabotage or a handiwork of Boko Haram insurgency which he said started years back without abating, adding that they will continue to encourage the government to continue the struggle of exterminating terrorism.
“As I always say, insurgency fighting is different from fighting a normal conventional war and it is time the military came out with the training that can make our military personnel know how to tackle insurgency from the conventional warfare that they have been trained for. As the President has been saying, he will do his very best to hamstring the operations of the insurgency.
“Fortunately this time, we have a soldier, a retired General, as President, I hope he comes up with much better tactics of handling the insurgence menace.”