Sunday, 15 February 2015

India building collapse kills 13 in Uttar Pradesh

A building in northern India has collapsed, killing 13 people believed to be from the same family.

The three-storey building in Uttar Pradesh state was near completion when it fell on a family of weavers asleep on the ground floor, police said.

At least three escaped unhurt when the structure came down in Dulhipur village near the city of Varanasi.

India has suffered a series of similar incidents, blamed in part on poor regulation and housing pressures.

Twelve people died at the scene and one in hospital, officials said.

Local police superintendent Chandauli Muniraj said construction appeared to have been hurried.

Police are looking for the building contractor and an investigation has begun.

Among the victims was the building's owner, Mohammad Kamarrudin, and two children, Supt Muniraj said.

A local unit of the National Disaster Response Force helped in the rescue operation and mechanical diggers were deployed to retrieve bodies.

Many such incidents in India are attributed to substandard building materials and lax safety standards.

The city of Chennai was the scene of a major collapse in July 2014 when an 11-storey building gave way, killing 61.

Sunday 15 February 2015

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The Ikeja bomb explosions that killed over 1000 in 2002

January 27, 2002, exactly 13 years ago, about a thousand people, most of them children perished while several thou­sands were injured in explosions that rocked Ikeja, the capital city of Lagos.The explosions were a result of accidental detonation of a large stockpile of ammunition stored at the (Armour Transit Depot), located within the Ikeja Military Cantonment.

The memories of that day’s event and the aftermath still continue to haunt many Lago­sians especially those who heard and expe­rienced the disaster in one way or the other even as that day has come to be regarded by many as ‘Black Sunday.’

Prior to the explosion, a lot of people never knew that such a facility existed in that environ­ment except maybe for the privileged few in top military circle and the soldiers themselves. According to a source who once resided in Ikeja Cantonment, “walking past that area was re­stricted for all, as soldiers on duty never allowed any person or vehicle to park or stop around the area. Even after the bomb explosion, movement around that area was still restricted,” she said.

The Ikeja military cantonment is a large mili­tary base in the city of Lagos situated north of the city and sandwiched between the districts of Isolo and Onigbongo Local Development Area. The cantonment also provides accommodation for soldiers and their families. Prior to January 2002, the base was used to store large quantities of “high calibre bombs”, as well as other sundry explosives.

On that fateful afternoon of 27 January, ac­cording to reports, a fire broke out on a street market next to the base. The fire apparently spread to the Barracks’ main ammunitions store, igniting the lethal weapons and causing a large explosion. The blast sent debris flying allover the area and starting several other fires that rocked the environment and nearby streets. Tremors from the explosion also collapsed many build­ings in the area, trapping people in the ruins. The tremors were so strong that houses that were 15 kilometres away had their windows shattered and their walls cracked while the blasts were felt more than 50 km inland.

Also thrown up by the blasts were thousands of yet unexploded military munitions, which fell in a rain of exploding shells, grenades and bullets, causing further destructions across most of the northern section of the city. The fires created by the debris from the explosion burnt down a large section of northern part of Lagos and created a panic that spread to other areas.

In the midst of the confusion and panic, civil­ians residing outside the barracks who had also heard the explosion and the resonating sound, out of fear, took to their heels to avoid the af­fected areas. No sure of where the explosions were coming from, speculations were high that armed robbers were invading Lagos while oth­ers thought it was a foreign attack on Nigeria.

As the streets became more and more crowd­ed as people fled, hot shells and fires from the explosions were falling on people, thus creating more panic.

As stampede of panic-stricken people con­tinued, many were trampled upon leading to several deaths. Eye witness accounts described how people were jumping from burning high-rise buildings and being killed in desperate at­tempts to cross the busy Ikeja dual carriageway.

As people fled from the flames, they surged towards a popular canal located in one one of the several suburbs of Lagos, Oke-Afa. The canal runs from the north to the south of the area, parallel to the Isolo-Oshodi Expressway through the centre of the city. It borders a ba­nana plantation, which many escapees thought might be safe from the falling shells and fires.

Unfortunately, the canal separated the plan­tation from the city and was covered by water hyacinth, a menacing see weed that made it difficult to see the water surface in the dark. In the ensuing melee, hundreds of panicking people fell into the water, many stumbled into the concealed canal and were drowned. Some were crushed by yet more people falling into the waterway, and in the struggling confusion, at least 600 people were killed, many of them children. Many of the bodies drifted down the canal, some being found as far as ten kilometres from the explosion a day after the disaster.

The explosion and its aftermath were be­lieved to have killed at least 1,100 people and displaced over 20,000, with many thousands injured or rendered homeless.

The government launched an enquiry, which blamed the Nigerian Army for failing to prop­erly maintain the base, or to decommission it when instructed to do so in 2001.

The affected areas of the city burned through most of the night, with explosions continuing to boil out of the wrecked armoury until the afternoon of January 28. The emergency ser­vices were woefully inadequate to deal with the devastation, as there were not enough fire crews or water points available to cope with the fire, which consequently consumed large parts of the city’s northern suburbs. City hospitals were also utterly overwhelmed, many injured went for hours without medical attention even if they did manage to reach an undamaged medical facility.

The military, too, having suffered the loss of many of its Lagos-based personnel in the initial explosion, was not in a position to assume con­trol of the city and did not appear in large num­bers until late on January 28.

Following the explosion, according to a sol­dier who was resident in the barracks and also a witness to the day’s incident, miscreants who had wanted to take advantage of the situation felt it was time to get back on the soldiers that had been dealing with them. Such miscreants got military uniforms and identity cards of sol­diers and invaded the barrack to loot and some of them met their Waterloo. On approaching the gate, they were surprised to see soldiers on duty who questioned them to verify their identity and when they couldn’t answer correctly questions they were asked, got the beating of their lives.

By the evening of 28 January, most of the fires were under control and people began returning to the city while there were attempts to find loved ones lost in the stampede. Many of the dead were children, separated from their fami­lies in the confusion and subsequently crushed in the crowds that filled the streets and canal .

When the dust settled, the authorities were unable to come out with the accurate final death toll, although the Red Cross claims that at least 1,000 bodies were recovered and a number of people were reported missing and never found. In addition to the dead, at least 5,000 people were injured in the disaster and over 12,000 left homeless, with entire districts of the city gutted. About 20,000 people had fled the city on the night of the explosion, and the survivors gradu­ally returned over the course of the next week.

The Nigerian president then, Olusegun Obasanjo arrived in Ikeja on 28 January along with some senior politicians, and he publicly demanded answers from the military as to why such a huge ammunition dump was kept in such a poorly maintained public location. It later emerged that a small explosion had occurred at the base the previous year, following which the army was advised by city officials to remove or modernize the armoury, but took no action. On the evening of 28 January, George Emdin, the commander of the Ikeja base who had not been present during the explosion, issued a statement.

The statement, however provoked the fury from the people of Lagos, who claimed that the military was making excuses for their mistakes and that nothing would be done to improve safety at other neglected ammunition dumps, many of which have not been properly main­tained since Nigeria gained democracy in 1999 following twenty years of military rule.

There were widespread fears in the immedi­ate aftermath of the explosion that it signified the beginning of a military coup, although the government later released a statement ruling out this possibility.

Numerous relief agencies, including the Red Cross and Red Crescent, provided aid to the thousands of homeless and lost people in the weeks following the disaster, attempting to reunite at least 2,000 separated or displaced families. People whose homes had survived were evacuated from Ikeja in order that military explosives experts could remove large quanti­ties of unexploded munitions from the area. The evacuees and refugees were housed in tempo­rary accommodations at the Ikeja Police Col­lege and the Abalti Barracks Yaba.

The recovery process in Ikeja took some years as the rebuilding programme was both lengthy and expensive, with many people suf­fering homelessness and poverty in the period due to the loss of their houses and livelihoods to the fire.

Sunday Sun went after many survivors of the disaster who gave an account of their experi­ences.

Mrs Kareem

I lost a pregnancy from that day’s event .

What happened on that day was horrifying for me. “I can’t forget that day- I really suffered” she said. I was about six months pregnant at that time; I lived at No. 16 Adekoya Street, Bolade Bus stop and had a shop on No. 19 of the same street. That January 27, 2002, when the bombs exploded, I was actually ill and had visited the hospital and was given drugs. So, I left the hos­pital, locked up my shop and went home to rest. But then I asked Chiamaka, my neighbour’s daughter to help me look after my child who was just 18 months old so I could rest.

But while I was sleeping, explosive sound suddenly got me awake; I had to force myself to get up from the bed to find out what was hap­pening. When I stepped out of my room into the compound, I couldn’t find anyone except my little girl, all by herself- everyone had ran away. So, I strapped my daughter with a wrapper to my back while scantily dressed in maternity dress and started running.

When I got to the roads, I saw a lot of people running helter-skelter; that was how I joined in the crowd. As we were running, we kept hearing the sound resonating and increasing in intensity. Then the next thing I realized was that I fell face down with my baby while I was running but got up and continued running. Unknown to me, my nephew Ibrahim was behind me; he took my child from me and strapped her behind, held my hand and we continued the race.

Along the way, we met another of our town’s woman (now late) who also joined us and we trekked from the Mile Two Expressway and found ourselves at Ikotun. “I really suffered that day” she added. It was at Synagogue Church that they bought sachet water and poured on my head to calm my nerves; by this time it was al­ready night. Then suddenly, I remembered the address of one of my sisters residing at Ikotun-that was where we headed for.

Fortunately, we met my sister who took us in, gave us food and water to freshen up. At dawn, she woke us up and gave us money to get back to Oshodi. Back home, the next day, people had started coming back to their homes; then I discovered I was already bleeding and was rushed to the Mandela Hospital at Bolade. They cleaned me up and asked me to go and do a scan. But still I wasn’t feeling any better. It was one of my sisters who had heard about the news of the bomb explosion that came from Festac to check on me.

Then she saw the state I was in and took me to the hospital. That initiated my journey from one hospital to the other until finally I got better. I eventually lost that pregnancy, but from January to July I was moving from one hospital to the other until I got better.

Hajia Badia

On the morning of that Sunday, I had pre­pared breakfast and even entertained the guest we had from Kano before going to the market. I even prepared pepper soup in the event that I will come back home in the afternoon.

Just about after the 2 o’clock prayers, I started hearing deafening sound, so I came outside to find out what was happening but nobody could tell me what it was and that was the last I could remember. I saw people running and I joined them as well. By the time I got to Bolade, there was confusion and everywhere was scattered, then I ran towards Mafoluku.

It was when I got to my younger brother’s house and heard the sound resonating a second time that I remembered my husband had told me on the day he brought me to stay in the bar­racks that any time I hear that ATD (Armour Transit Depot) has caught fire, I should run and not look back. With that revelation, I told my brother how enormous the magnitude of what was happening and he suggested we come to the barracks but I decided we move away from Oshodi. So, we took the route to the airport, on getting there, I couldn’t jump over a de­marcating wall between the airport and Mafoluku to the other side- my brother it was that carried me on his back to cross over. It was there that I saw one of my daughters (I have four children).

When I entered the airport compound, I didn’t know where I was any more; I initially wanted to go and see my elder brother. I realised I was at the internation­al airport but remembered that my brother stayed at the side of the local airport. We continued trekking and when I got to my brother’s place, the door was wide ajar but there was nobody at home. We moved to­wards the airport bus stop and there we met a man who was kind enough to ask where I was coming from and heading to. I told him I was coming from the Ikeja barracks but didn’t know where I was go­ing to and he asked me to hop into his car.

Looking at the barracks from the air­port bus stop, everything looked burnt down. So, the man gave me a ride to Ikeja and then to Egbeda when I told him I wanted to go to Ikotun. There, I took a bus to Ikotun. At Ikotun bus stop, I couldn’t remember the name of the street to our house. Motorcyclists would ask for my destination but I couldn’t tell except that I only remembered the first name of the street, Joseph. It was when one cy­clist heard the name Joseph that he knew where I wanted to go and took me to our house- I had about N100, 000 on me.

At home, I couldn’t sleep and there wasn’t a cell phone at that time. By 4 a.m the next day, I got up and asked the driver to take me to the barracks. Despite the traffic on the road, I trekked home. At home, I couldn’t find my children anymore and when I asked my husband of their whereabouts, he told me that he couldn’t account for one of the children. There and then I went to Akinpelu and then Makinde police station to look for my children.

It was at Makinde police station that I quarrelled with the police inspector when he referred me to the canal because so many children had died at the canal. I told him my children weren’t among those that died there because I know the God I am serving.

During the explosion, nobody could enter the barracks but my husband had stayed back because he was a soldier and secondly he didn’t have any money on him as I had taken the money to buy some items before the explosion. It was later that my husband’s brother called to say that they had found my child at Ajang­bandi. So, I took my children and we went back to our house

Here we are still in the cantonment since after January 27, 2002 and I thank God for it. I know of a woman who lost all her three children (all boys); she couldn’t find even one even as we speak. I am grateful to God that I met everything inside my shop the way I left it and my children are safe. But the barracks hasn’t been the same since then. A lot of people have left the barracks. After the blast, some soldiers were posted to Lokoja and other places where there they could be accommodated as a lot of houses were destroyed in the process. Now, we hardly make sales unlike before because the bomb explosion forced a lot of people out of the barracks and funny enough, no one knew what exactly happened.

Theodoro, a patent medicine dealer – That day was terrifying

What happened that day was terrify­ing. On that fateful day, everyone initially was confused; we who were trading in the Mammy Market didn’t know what was happening. People around were speculat­ing that armed robbers were on rampage, others were saying there was foreign mili­tary invasion, but no one realised that the source of the resonating explosive sounds were emanating from the ATD (Armour Transit Depot).

As the bombs were exploding, the sound was increasing in intensity, people were running helter-skelter such that father didn’t know son and vice versa. Women were not concerned if they were naked, they just kept running. People were trying to figure out what exactly was happening. People were falling over themselves and running in different direc­tions as they were trying to get away from the lighting explosion, leaving behind whatever it was they were doing at that point in time.

When I heard the sound, I ran away from the mammy market to my elder brother’s place in Sango Ota in Ogu State. It was after two days they called me to say I should come back home. It was easier for me because I wasn’t married; some fell into water (canal). Some others sur­vived it and are thankful to God. It was later that we came to know that Ikeja can­tonment ATD- where arms and ammuni­tion were stored caught fire.

Sunday 15 February 2015

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