The gas explosion at Atomic Junction and the senselessness of it
October 10, 2017
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
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.
early and we would have been caught in the thick of the
But not entirely free from the
confusion that erupted on this day
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
response to this emergency became evident at the very instance of
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.
has so far resulted in 15 deaths and as many as 150
The panic and the fright probably could have added more
casualties elsewhere, all because the appropriate response was
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
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.
announcement also said a Kyinkyinga seller in the neighborhood was
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
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
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.
somebody deserved to be blamed. The kyinkyinga seller can't be
blamed for his ignorance, since ignorance persists in large areas of our
can be blamed for willful neglect of civic education and for the low evidence of preparedness that met this emergency.
officialdom for allowing hawkers with naked flames to stand
their trades in
close proximity with petroleum filling stations and propane
But most of all,
blame officialdom for lack of quick and appropriate response.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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
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 www.ghanadot.com,
Washington, DC, October 10, 2017.
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