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The gas explosion at Atomic Junction and the senselessness of it all
E. Ablorh-Odjidja
October 10, 2017

When tragic events occur in Ghana, they sometimes come with an underlying senselessness that is hard to explain. And the explosion at Atomic Junction on October 07, 2017 must count as one of such events.

The senselessness becomes more vivid when you count yourself as one of the lucky ones who escaped from being an innocent victim.

By sheer luck or providence, we were about 15 minutes late in our travel plan on a return journey from Krobo Odumase to Accra.


Fifteen minutes early and we would have been caught in the thick of the conflagration.  But not entirely free from the confusion that erupted on this day

The explosion we heard and the fire in the sky was frightening. But the resulting panic in the street was more - a huge stampede of automobiles and pedestrians running away form a perceived danger.

Suddenly, all six lanes going north and south, simultaneously in opposite directions, had merged as one solid traffic heading back north. Had it not been for the skill of our youthful driver, Robert, we would have been ran over by the oncoming and unyieldingly mad traffic.


It was total madness. And the lack of appropriate and immediate response to this emergency became evident at the very instance of the explosion.

In truth, panic can spread faster and wider than the actual event that caused it. 


However, the same panic could also tell much more about the event – the human side of the tragedy, the helplessness in the face of sudden danger; with people fleeing as if from a war torn zone.


Yet, it was what moments ago was peace time Accra. Something was wrong.  And that thinking was lurking at the back of inquiring minds.


Could the cause that sparked the explosion have been preventable?  We need the answer now.  For, a society that craves for solutions to its overwhelming developmental challenges, this question must not be allowed to go unanswered. 


 This tragedy has so far resulted in 15 deaths and as many as 150 serious injuries.  The panic and the fright probably could have added more casualties elsewhere, all because the appropriate response was lacking. 


This explosion, in a well managed society, would not have ended in chaos.

We met the chaos as we turned south at Adenta, on to the main Aburi highway and had just covered about a fifth of the distance to Atomic Junction, which was where and when the explosion happened.

The sky was lit red orange. Dark billowing smoke in the air traced to the origin of the conflagration. The rolling panic and the massive touting of horns in traffic made the day surreal.

Then it was announced on the radio that the explosion was caused by a leak from an above ground propane storage tank.

But the announcement also said a Kyinkyinga seller in the neighborhood was the culprit.


He had caused the explosion when, in preparation for his evening trade, he lit a flame to his open grill. And the heavy gas hanging immediate overhead sucked in the spark, which traced its way back to the propane tank.

That was how the cause of the explosion was reported.

But remember, though deaths and injuries on the scene had been reported, the body of the kyinkyinga seller was not among them, which should raise a question or two about the real cause of the explosion.


Was it all the fault of the kyinkyinga seller or is it time to look at uncaring and corrupt officialdom for blame?


The consequences of operating an open grill next to a propane gas hub could have escaped the kyinkyinga seller's understanding. But the hazardous nature of his activity shouldn't have escaped that of officialdom.

His little enterprise, which could probably have earned him less than hundred cedis a day, ended up that evening causing the national economy a damage worth in the millions.

Right here, somebody deserved to be blamed. The kyinkyinga seller can't be blamed for his ignorance, since ignorance persists in large areas of our society.


But officialdom can be blamed for willful neglect of civic education and for the low evidence of preparedness that met this emergency.


Also blame officialdom for allowing hawkers with naked flames to stand their trades in close proximity with petroleum filling stations and propane distribution hubs.


But most of all, blame officialdom for lack of quick and appropriate response.

The event of 9/11 in New York City showed us how first responders react to emergencies, with uniformed men moving toward the center of the problem; not running away from it.

But, on this day in Accra, and for a long time, the first responders were nowhere to be seen. It  was loudly clear in the panic that ensued in the street.

For the three hours that we were caught in traffic, fighting our way through rain and the panicked crowd, we did not see a single police or army officer in charge of anything. And we were within a radius of just a couple of miles from the emergency scene.

Usually, on a normal day on this same road, we would have seen police patrols harassing taxi and truck drivers. This time there was not a single sign of them in sight.

Something is seriously wrong with a society that lacks emergency responders in a situation like this. 

And the lack of response was not for want of material resources.  The lack was in the spirit and training of these first responders  - whose competency have been hindered by corruption in the selection. These were the men in change of public safety.

What else has been corrupted and why must a propane tank, in the midst of other flammable fueling stations, fail in the public square? 


Starting with the simple vendor (the kyinkyinga and the roasted plantain sellers alike) who would trade recklessly in dangerous areas, we must ask why his awareness of the danger this low and not raised through a general civic education program.

Once upon a time, we did civic education through  traveling cinema vans.  And now, thankfully, we should be able to do same through suitable media, such as Ghana Television (GTV).  Do we?

Also, how could it be that 60 years after independence, a kyinkyinga seller could broil meat on an open fire next to sources of hazardous material such as leak of flammable gases from filling points without a police officer able to ask him to shut his operation down?

But why so many petrol filling stations at dense populated sections of Accra; sometimes a clutter of them on a single narrow strip?

And why are huge propane tanks allowed to stand above ground but not buried for additional protection?

Finally, how are these service facilities licensed and inspected for safety? 


Granting permit to install propane tanks above ground is wrong from many points of view.  And failing to inspect these facilities in timely manner to assure safety can only point to corruption, somebody said to me. 


Indeed, in this particular instance of the explosion at Atomic Junction, corrupt officialdom should not be ruled out - from licensing to inspection.  This case is worthy of criminal investigation. If found wanting, the miscreant officials should face legal action.

But the sad part is nothing of the sort will happen.


Thanks to corruption in our society, operating licenses for these offending facilities will continue to be issued faster without much concern for public safety. The disaster will happen. But our so called honorable officialdom will never learn to respond appropriately.

E. Ablorh-Odjidja,Publisher, Washington, DC, October 10, 2017.

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