At 5:30pm on Thursday when I approached a popular petrol station along the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway, I heard several loud explosions on Otedola Bridge. This was accompanied by several balls of fire and thick black smoke rising to the sky. I was in company with two of my colleagues (Kemi Lanre-Aremu and Joy Marcus). We were on the opposite side of the expressway heading towards Alausa en route Maryland.
A tanker had skidded off the road, fallen on its side and emptied its content on the entire place. Sensing the imminent danger, some motorists attempted to manoeuvre their way out of the traffic while a few abandoned their vehicles, jumped over the median and crossed to the other side of the expressway.
We watched from some distance as people at the other side of the expressway began to scream and beckon on people to run for their lives. In an instant, the first explosion occurred and the tanker and many vehicles around it went up in flames.
Due to the ferocity of the flames, I knew this was no ordinary fire. In the ensuing commotion as pedestrians had taken to their heels and motorists had started to pull over, I parked my vehicle inside the filling station. I was lucky to have found a space inside it before its workers hurriedly shut its gates.
I picked up my camera and ran towards the direction of the fire. While Kemi followed, Joy had to stay back to ensure nobody broke into the car while we were away.
On getting to the accident scene, another loud explosion sent onlookers and symphatisers scampering for safety. In all, there were up to six explosions at short intervals that seemed to renew the ferocity of the fire.
At that point, nobody attempted to go close to the burning vehicles but could only watch from across the expressway. Some persons (we counted three) who were lucky to have escaped announced their presence to the teeming onlookers by going on their knees, raising their hands towards heaven and weeping.
I even overheard a survivor, who Kemi later spoke to; telling his wife to prepare him pounded yam and vegetable soup. Another lucky female survivor, who said she was on her way to Mowe, Ogun State, was terribly shaken. She wept and Kemi and Joy had to lead her into the car so she could get herself together. According to her, she was in a taxi when the accident happened. She said she alighted from the cab when she saw people scampering for safety and realised that danger lurked. She said she did not even know the fate of the taxi driver.
Over 50 vehicles were affected by the inferno and no rescue effort was in sight until about 35 minutes later when some officials of the Lagos State Fire Service arrived with trucks. Even at that, not much could be done because the fire was still intense.
The flames subsided after about one hour and with the concerted efforts of the emergency rescue teams that were on the ground, the fire was brought under control. Even though the rescue teams and the police tried to keep the crowd away, Kemi, Joy (who had by then joined us) and I made our way to the burnt vehicles. We counted well over 50 vehicles and several corpses. Most of them had been burnt beyond recognition. The smell of burnt human flesh rent the air and there wasn’t a dry eye in sight.