Calabar disaster: Soccer viewers get electrocuted at viewing centre

Some of the victims
Some of the victims

But for the love of the round leather game, Mr. Ete James would probably still be alive today. Perhaps, the worst that would have happened to him was suffer the pains of a brief illness and leap out of his sick bed after a day or two.

But the curiosity and excitement of watching how the televised football match between Manchester United and FC Anderlecht would be decided prompted the ailing soccer fan to leave his house and dash to the nearby popular make-shift viewing centre on Nsak Effiom Street in Nyakassang community in Calabar, Cross River State, especially on hearing that his favourite team had scored.

Sadly, he did not make it back. He was among the seven persons electrocuted, when a high tension cable cut from an electric pole and fell on the recreational joint on Thursday after one of the transformers in the area exploded.

Another 20 people were reportedly injured in the tragedy in which 30 people were initially said to have died.

Bereaved son to the deceased, Akaniyene Edem James, said: “My father was not feeling very well, but when he heard that Manchester United had scored, he decided to go and watch the game and then went and met his untimely death.”

Akaniyene added: “The family is very devastated and we don’t even know where to start from. It’s only God that will help us.”

The fatal explosion, which occurred about 10:00pm Thursday night, was said to have ignited a fire in which surviving victims suffered varying degrees of burns.

An eye-witness, Ndabo Enobong Dominic, said when the transformer exploded, Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company, PHEDC, cut off power supply to the area, causing the soccer buffs, numbering about 60, to tell the operator to put on his generating set. He did and they resumed enjoying the match. However, when the PHEDC later restored power, there was a surge causing sparks that resulted in the fire which engulfed and destroyed the make-shift structure reportedly made of zinc.

“They have been having issues with electricity for some time in the community, as about three poles had fallen. On that fateful day, PHEDC took light when the people were busy watching the match, which started at 7:45pm. When there was a spark from the transformer that serves the community, one of the cables from the high tension pole on top of the building fell on the viewing centre, which was made of zinc.

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“But determined to watch the match, the football fans insisted that the operator of the centre must put on his generating set, which he did. A few minutes after, PHEDC brought light again and because of the power surge the whole building was red-hot with red current.

“In an attempt to escape, most of people inside the centre started rushing out and in the process some were electrocuted while some were injured,” Dominic said.

One of those confirmed dead was a pastor of the Mt Zion Light House Full Gospel Church, Nyakassang Assembly, Elder James Edem Akpan.

Residents rushed the injured ones to hospitals around the city including University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, UCTH.

One of the survivors, Mr Albert Nsan, told Saturday Sun: “When the thing happened there was commotion inside the hall, but I decided to stand still and later tip-toed to the edge of the door from where a friend helped me get out of the place. When I came out, I discovered that the fire had affected the tips of my toes. I was rushed to UCTH, but I could not be admitted, because they said they didn’t have space and my case wasn’t serious. Later my people took me to a private clinic, where I was treated and discharged. I thank God I am still alive.”

Also narrating his ordeal, Godswill Bassey Okon, whose compound was adjacent to the viewing centre, said: “I lost my uncle, Emmanuel Edet Okon, who was everything to me as well as two other tenants, while two others escaped death by the whiskers.

“The transformer has been problematic for a while and we have got used to it and so, we were not surprised whenever it sparked, except this terrible one. When the incident happened, I rushed my uncle out and  tried to revive him, not knowing that he was dead.”

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Chief Medical Director of UCTH, Prof Thomas Agan, said: “A total of 18 patients were brought to the hospital from the electric cable burns site on Thursday night.  Seven were brought in dead, while 11 who were alive are being treated and are stable. One is in Intensive care Unit, ICU just as others are being moved to the ward.”

Mourning the victims of the viewing centre tragedy, the state governor, Professor Ben Ayade, ordered immediate setting up of a commission of inquiry to probe the incident.

Ayade, represented by his deputy, Prof Ivara Esu, during a visit to the community, commiserated with the residents before visiting the victims at the Accident and Emergency Care Unit of UCTH, yesterday morning. He described the incident “as tragic and horrifying.”

He said the state government would also offer assistance to the victims and their families, adding that all houses built under the high tension cable in the state would be demolished by the government to avoid a recurrence.

Reacting, the spokesman of PHEDC, Mr John Onyi, said it was the UNICAL 11kv feeder that fell about 10:00pm directly on top of the roof of the viewing centre  that caused the incident.

He blamed non-observance of town planning laws for the tragedy, stressing: “buildings are supposed to be 12.5 metres away from high tension cables. But in this instance, that procedure was not adhered to by the owner of the viewing centre. For now, we have disconnected light from the community pending when technical investigation will be carried out to ascertain what happened.”

While we await the outcome of the investigation, our customers are advised to remain calm, law abiding and accord our men the necessary cooperation to unravel the cause of the unfortunate incident.

Meanwhile, Manchester United FC of England has sent condolences to the families of the Thursday night’s tragedy

“Our thoughts go out to the Manchester United fans, their friends and families affected by the tragedy yesterday in Calabar, Nigeria,’’ the club wrote on its Twitter handle on Friday.

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