Thursday, 23 April 2015

Scooping Fuel From Tanker Accident Scenes Is Dangerous

...The Kabwe Accident 20 Years Ago Is Good Example

One Facebook user, Muchemwa Sichone recently wrote about an overturned fuel tanker along the Ndola-Kitwe dual carriageway and how it was swarmed by people of all ages and sex scooping and decanting the liquid from the stricken vehicle.
Sichone wrote:
A fuel tanker had an accident on the Ndola - Kitwe dual carriage way today [April 16]. It fell onto it's side and I was just awed by the blatant disregard for safety and life that every "container opportunistic scavenger" in man, woman as well as child was demonstrating. The Police and Fire Brigade were nowhere in sight to secure the site. It's things like this that are more of an indicator for me about the state of this nation than the US$ rate...#StartThinking.”
On another Facebook post, someone who saw the same accident reported how policemen who finally got to the accident scene, were also wet from the fuel. It would appear that the law enforcement officers also joined the jamboree of scooping the essential juice along with the rest of the citizens.
As I read the two posts, my memory raced back to an incident involving a fuel tanker that had overturned near Hindu Hall on the Kabwe-Kapiri highway just over 20 years ago. I was a reporter on the Sunday Mail then and travelled to Kabwe to cover the incident.
People scooping petrol from an overturned tanker.
Kabwe residents from far and wide descended on the accident scene like vultures with all sorts of containers including dishes without covers or leads, to decant fuel from the tanker. For a while it was a mad rush with the lucky ones siphoning as much fuel as they could and get away.
A new 4x4 Toyota Hilux also arrived at the scene with the driver trying to refuel for free before he could drive off. He did manage to refuel the twin cab but he couldn’t manage to drive off. It is not clear what happened at that very moment as the tanker with its deadly cargo blew up into a fireball engulfing everyone and everything around it and those walking away with the liquid cargo in the immediate vicinity of the tanker.
There is a sad story of two young children who sat on the culvert of their house, a few metres away, innocently watching what was going on. The children had no chance to get away when the fireball followed the flow of the fuel in the drainage running towards them.

What Caused The Deadly Kabwe Inferno?

The question is what caused the deadly inferno that killed over 30 people including a whole generation of kaponyas [touts] who had converged at the accident scene to scoop free fuel for their changanya [illegal fuel] business? There are two theories. One is that someone tried to steal the battery and in the process caused a spark, igniting the air pregnant with fumes.
The second is that a kaponya whom people called “Changwe wa ku Poleni [Changwe of Poleni] ” threw a cigarette he was smoking as he arrived at the scene on to the lethal fluid with the words “mwatapa sana [you have scooped enough]” and the whole thing just blew up. Of course it is difficult to verify the two theories as most, if not all, of the would-be witnesses perished.
At that time, Kabwe residents learnt a lesson such that a Chibuku [opaque beer] tanker overturned a few weeks later and no one touched it.

Ndola Family Wiped Out

Still on the issue of improper handling/storage of petroleum products, a family I knew in one of the townships in Ndola in the 1980s lost almost everyone when drums of petrol for sale as changanya and kept in one of the bedrooms caught fire. A family member, concluding a sale, went into the bedroom with a lit candle to decant petrol into a customer’s plastic container. The rest, as they say, is history.
But back to the Ndola-Kitwe road incident. That, clearly, was an accident—apart from the flipping of the tanker—waiting to happen. A spark or—have you ever wondered why the use of mobile phones is not allowed at filling stations—even a ringing mobile phone could spark a fire at a scene like that.
What is more is that the Ndola-Kitwe highway is a changanya haven right from Baluba up to just before ZamTan and I am sure all the traders converged on the tanker spewing liquid gold.
It is high time our law enforcement bodies, the fire brigade and safety bodies like the Mine Safety Department and the Energy Regulation Board came up with rules, regulations and serious penalties for breaking them such as when the whole citizenry descends on an overturned fuel tanker like vultures.

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