Tragedy strikes on Christmas eve as Chikason gas plant explodes in Nigeria
Several people are believed killed in explosion at Nigerian gas plant (representational picture) Reuters

An explosion was reported at an industrial gas plant early on 24 December in the town of Nnewi, Anambra state. Various reports have put the number of those killed between 35 and more than a 100.

The explosion is believed to have occurred at around 11 in the morning. However, reports of the incident came to light only on Christmas day. BBC reports of eyewitness accounts claim that people who had gone to the plant that morning to collect gas, in order to prepare Christmas dinner, were "burned beyond recognition". Chukwuemerie Uduchukwu, the witness, claims to have seen over a dozen bodies brought out of the gas plant when he visited the scene of the tragedy.

The blast is believed to have set off a fire in neighbouring residential areas, with houses nearby also reportedly damaged as a result. Over 50 vehicles in the area at the time of the blast have also been reportedly affected. Commenting at the devastation at the scene, Uduchukwu said, "Five hours after the explosion and the depot was still burning, with the Red Cross and the fire services still at the scene."

Victims of the tragedy were taken to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital located about 2-3km away from the area where the blast occurred. The Vanguard newspaper reported that initial attempts to contact the nearby fire-station for assistance were not successful. Help did not arrive until most of the damage was already done. Defending the fire service staff in the area Mary Ofia, a fire officer, claimed the failure to provide immediate assistance was due to their fire truck being vandalised by an angry mob in a previous operation at Nkpor.

A survivor of the blast, Ikechukwu, told the Vanguard newspaper: "I ran for my life and escaped with minor injury but my mother was not lucky. She was not as fast as myself and when the fire subsided a little bit, the next thing I saw was her dead body. Look at the chicken we planned to kill tomorrow for Christmas. A similar thing happened at another residence where a woman and her daughter were lucky to remain alive after suffering some degrees of burn".

The vice chairman of Anambra state Red Cross, Prof Peter Katchy, expressed concern over the number of gas stations located in residential areas in the vicinity. Katchy also claimed that in the coming new year, the Red Cross and the Anambra State Emergency Management Agency (Sema) would "declare war on owners of filling stations sited at residential areas".