With the oozing stench of death which hung strong in the air and over a score wooden benches scattered all around with slippers littered every where anyone who stuck his face into the makeshift hall, that served as football viewing centre at 55 Nsak Effiom Lane , Nyahasang village, outskirts of Calabar Municipality, would readily know that tragedy had taken place there.
The spectacle at the hall, clearly showed that a struggle for survival by the crowd had taken place there and as in most instances of tragic occurrences, the unfortunate ones usually fell victims and in this instance, over thirty persons had either lost their lives, become maimed or badly burned and would probably remain scarred for the rest of their life.
The incident at Nyahasang was a benumbing experience because one expects reward for a passion but paradoxically, instead of being rewarded, these fans turned victims, losing their lives or being badly burned.
The incident occurred when a high tension cable running across a number of shops and houses, was severed from the pole following an explosion in the “first transformer” located at the junction some fifty metres away and landed on the roof of the viewing centre leading to the instant electrocution to death of over eight persons and 21 others suffering severe burns and wounds.
One of the survivors, Alooma said that while the Europa League match between Manchester United and Anderlecht was on, that he and the operator of the centre escaped by sheer fate because they were outside the hall when the transformer exploded, causing the high tension wire to fall on the zinc roof of the viewing centre.
“When the transformer exploded, there was fire around the place and one of the cables cut and rested on the roof of the viewing centre but nothing happened as the light went out before the cable was cut and we thought there will be no electricity supply again and went outside to discuss the match while the operator started the generator”.
He said as the light went out, Nsikak, the operator of the viewing centre came out to put on the generator so they could continue watching the match but while he was doing that, some fans returned to the hall to wait for the generator to come on but no sooner had they went in that electricity was restored and that was when trouble started as makeshift centre wall roofing sheets,transmitting electricity to the ground, started to electrocute fans, causing everyone inside to rush for the single door, which served as the entrance and exit.
He said it took some time for help to come as people were scared of going close because of fear of being electrocuted too and it was until a call was put to the Calabar office of the Port Harcourt Electricity office before the electricity supply was cut off and those dead and wounded were evacuated to the UCTH.
At the UCTH Accident and Emergency Unit on Friday morning, relatives and friends of the victims besieged the place seeking information on their loved ones. Relatives desperate to see their loved ones gave the staff a tough time as they surged and broke the barricade mounted by the hospital to keep visitors away while they attended to the wounded football fans.
A source in the hospital told Said eight corpses were brought to the hospital dead and kept in the mortuary while over 21 others were being treated for serious burns and wounds.
“Eight corpses were brought here last night and are in he mortuary while more than 21 are being treated for various degrees of burns and wounds but we cannot allow you in because the instruction is that anybody who does not belong to the emergency unit should not be allowed inside One lady, who gave her names as Hannah, was seen weeping at the lobby of the Emergency unit, said her son, Bassey has not been seen in the house since the night of the tragic incidence.
“We did not see him yesterday (Thursday) and when we got news of what happened, we have not been told if he is among those being treated of if he was among those taken to the mortuary” John Uyo, the Public Relations Officer of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Centre, said comprehensive investigations would be carried out by the company.
“PHED commiserates with relatives of victims of the tragedy.. The feeder snapped at the Nyahasang junction and fell on top of houses under the high tension wire. We are not here to apportion blames but we will investigate the incident, although we are yet to ascertain those affected. We sincerely sympathise with the families of the victims”, he said.
Deputy Governor of the state, Prof Ivara Esu, who visited the viewing centre yesterday, sympathized with the families and stated that government will settle the hospital bills of the victims . He assured that there will be a full-scale investigation by government and called for patience by residents of the area
Meanwhile the operator of the viewing centre has since fled the place taking away his television sets and generator Meanwhile, Manchester United and FIFA have reacted to the tragedy in Calabar. Manchester United yesterday tweeted: “Our thoughts go out to the United fans, their friends and families affected by the tragedy in Calabar, Nigeria.”
A statement from football’s governing body Fifa added: “Fifa is deeply saddened by the deaths of several football fans in Calabar & offer our deepest condolences to family and friends of the victims.”
The Nigeria Football Federation on Friday commiserated with the Government and people of Cross River State, as well as families and friends of the 30 persons reportedly killed at a viewing centre in the city of Calabar, while watching a UEFA Europa League match between Manchester United of England and Anderlecht of Belgium on Thursday evening.
According to an account of the tragedy given by a survivor, a transformer near the viewing centre located in the Iyang-Esu area of the Calabar Municipal Local Government Area exploded and this caused a high tension cable to drop on the viewing centre, while the match was on.
NFF General Secretary, Dr. Mohammed Sanusi said: “It is with heavy hearts that we received the tragic news of the death of 30 persons at a viewing centre in Calabar while they were watching a UEFA Europa League match on Thursday evening.
“We mourn with the Government of Cross River State, our affiliate the Cross River State Football Association, the good people of Cross River State and the families and friends of the deceased football fans.
“We pray that God Almighty will grant their souls eternal rest and also grant their loved ones and the Government and people of Cross River State the fortitude to bear the big loss.
“We are much pained by this unfortunate incident because football is a game of peace that brings joy and excitement to the whole of humanity.”