Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Stupidity (Part IV)

All of us at various times in our lives do really stupid things that could result in us being killed but as fate would have it, we somehow escaped that particular fate. But a great many people did things in the past by challenging death to take them away. Well, death caught up to them and took them away. What follows is truly a stupid thing to do and yet despite the fact that many people have died doing it, there are still fools doing it anyway.

Siphoning fuel from broken oil pipelines

Fuel leaks and oil tanker accidents in Africa often draw huge crowds scrambling to scoop fuel, resulting in many deaths due to accidental fires. Below are the biggest oil pipeline fires on the continent, most of which happened in Nigeria.

Oct 17, 1998: NIGERIA: More than 1,000 people died at Jesse, in the southeastern state of Delta, when a pipeline exploded as people tried to steal fuel.

June 19, 2003: NIGERIA: 125 people were killed by a pipeline explosion in the village of Ovim in Abia state, where they were trying to collect leaking petrol.
Dec 26, 2006: NIGERIA: At least 284 died in a blast at a pipeline as people were stealing petrol in the Abule Egba district of northern Lagos.

Jan 31, 2009: KENYA: Some 122 were killed when an oil wagon exploded at Molo, 150 kilometres northwest of Nairobi, while they were collecting fuel.

Now one would think that those deaths were enough to deter others from trying to siphon fuel from broken pipelines but obviously not. What follows is a similar event that took place recently.

Shortly after 4 a.m., on September 13th 2011, the slum dwellers in the tin shacks of Sinai in Kenya began rushing to a nearby burst oil pipeline. Sammy Njenga said he was going to the river when he "saw the (liquid) gold flowing from the pipe. I ran home and grabbed two jerry cans and went back to fill them up."

Free fuel, as well as the opportunity to sell the gas on the black market, is irresistible to many people. Some residents said fuel siphoning in the slum was a common practice.

"It happens whenever the Kenya Pipeline Company is pumping fuel. We usually go to get fuel from there," said Francis Munge. "There are people who know how to open a valve and I don't know what happened this time for it to burst. Maybe there was a lot of pressure."

Another resident, Kenneth Makau, said, "There is usually a long queue of people getting fuel with jerry cans from that pipeline. It is an open secret because even they (the company) knows it very well. It has been happening."

But this time, the fuel was also spilling into a sewage dike that runs under the slum, and when a discarded cigarette butt was thrown into the dike that opens into a small river, a wave of flames swept through the homes. In the inferno, at least 120 people were burned to death and more than a hundred injured. Many residents were caught up in the blaze. Scores of bodies, some burned to the bone, lay on charred grass near trenches and a filthy river in the Sinai slum, home to 100,000 people.

Police spokesman Charles Owino said, "The scene is bad. There are many bodies; we are yet to count them. Sometimes poverty can push you to do very dangerous things." And very stupid things also.

Some of those whose clothing and hair caught fire jumped into a nearby stream to extinguish the flames, but many succumbed to their injuries in the water. Police later placed a net across the stream to prevent the bodies from drifting away.

Francis Muendo, another local resident said, "I have never seen this in my life. I have seen women and children burnt like firewood. The very worst was a woman burned with her baby on her back.” There is an informal school inside the slum, they have all been burnt." Why were there people in the school at that time of the night? Perhaps they went there after they had been burned.

Daniel Mutinda, a search and rescue team leader at the Kenya Red Cross said, "We are putting bodies into body bags, they are totally burnt, beyond recognition."

Mr. Njenga, a 21-year-old unemployed slum dweller, said he had finished siphoning fuel when he heard an explosion. "As I finished and turned away there was a boom as the fuel ignited," he said. "I could feel the flames on my back. I had been standing next to a mother-of-three who wasn't fast enough. She died."

The sound of ambulance sirens ferrying away the injured for medical care gave way to the shouts of children, running around searching for their parents amid the tin shacks.

Abandoned jerry cans littered the scene and bystanders covered their mouths to avoid choking on the acrid smoke. Firefighters in protective clothing sprayed chemical foam to contain the fire, while both police and soldiers roped off the area and pushed people back from the area. Houses close to the pipeline were also engulfed in flames, their tin roofs buckling and disintegrating.

Local televisions said scores of burn victims had been taken to hospitals. "The death toll from bodies counted so far is 120. It is likely to rise because of the bodies in the river," said Philip Kisia, a Nairobi city council official.

Richard Lesiampe, the head of one of the main hospitals in Nairobi, said 109 people were being treated for burns in his hospital.
My commentary

What I find most unsettling is the fact that oil pipelines in Africa are built so close to homes. Is it possible that the slums more or less were simply built closer to the pipelines? In advanced countries like Canada, the United States and others like those countries, oil pipelines are built in areas where homes must be a considerable distance from them and if they have to run along an area where homes are nearby, fencing keeps people away from the pipelines. More often, they are placed underground.

Plans are being formulated to build a 1,661-mile underground pipeline carrying a form of heavy crude oil to slice through the United States from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast. That is the safest way to transport oil or any other form of fuel through areas where people live. Further up north where oil is being transported via pipelines, the pipelines are above the ground because there are no communities nearby nor will any be built near those pipelines that are above ground.

Unfortunately in countries like Kenya and Nigeria, the pipelines are above ground and for this reason, when they burst, the temptation to run to them and fill up jerry cans with the leaking fuel is too great for the people living near the places where the breaks have taken place.

Signs should be plastered along the pipeline that says, “Stealing fuel from a broken pipeline can be fatal.” Will that deter some of the people running towards the broken pipeline? Not likely but they can’t sue the company that operates the pipeline after having been warned to keep away from the pipeline. Come to think about it, how can a charred corpse burnt to a black crisp sue anyone?

As they lay dying on the grass, did they ask themselves, “Why did I do this?” Probably before they could answer that rhetorical question, they succumbed to their injuries.

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