Distraught families recall deadly inferno as reality of losses dawns
NYANZA | By Harold Odhiambo and Olivia Odhiambo | July 20th 2021
Samuel Aloo, a father of four, wipes a tear as he removes two pictures from his family album and spends several minutes looking at them.
He wipes his face with a handkerchief as he recalls the last moments he spent with his wife and 15-year-old grandson.
The two were among 15 people who died in the horrific tanker fire at Malanga in Siaya on Saturday night. A few minutes earlier, news that two other members of his extended family had also perished in the fire had left him dumbstruck.
“I wish they had listened to me,” Aloo sobs. Aloo was among the several families trying to come to terms with the loss of their kin after fruitlessly searching for them among survivors of the fuel tanker blast.
A few metres away from where he sat, his brother was writhing in pain from burns on his legs. He sustained the burns after attempting in vain to rescue his grandson who is in a critical condition in hospital. But for Aloo, he claims he confirmed the fate of his wife after finding her key at the site of the crash. He also found a piece of her burnt dress at the site of the inferno.
When The Standard caught up with him, the elderly man was still struggling to come to terms with the loss of his kin. From a distance, one can read the pain in him without uttering a word. He was in deep shock. Before the incident, he had tried in vain to convince his wife not to join the crowd that was scrambling for oil.
He narrated how he had followed the two to bring them back home before a huge explosion and fireball swept through the group of villagers.
“I told my wife not to go to the scene but she insisted that she would also get a share of fuel that everyone was siphoning,” he says.
His grandson also followed his wife and never made it back alive.
Aloo said their deaths have left him devastated adding that he is yet to accept that he is now widowed.
On both sides of his home, two families who are also members of his extended family are also mourning the loss of two other members who perished in the fire. At the home of his cousin, the death of a Form One student who had also gone to siphon fuel from the tanker has left his family in tears.
Caroline Akinyi, the mother of the deceased, recalled how she watched her son cry for help as fire engulfed him.
She weeps while narrating how he tried to run away from the scene but did not make it.
“I heard him scream until his voice faded. There was nothing I could do to help,” she says.
She said she had been hoping their son would finish school and improve their lives.
“We are broken. I warned him against going to the scene, but he did not listen,” she said.
Yesterday, several homes in close proximity were mourning lost relatives. Seven families confirmed they lost their kin.
Some 29 patients are also still admitted in various hospitals with 24 who are admitted at Siaya County Referral Hospital nursing more than 50 per cent of burns. Yesterday, two more patients succumbed to burns.
Liech Odoyo, the Medical Superintendent at the Siaya County Referral Hospital said the patients were responding positively to treatment. Although an atmosphere of grief and sorrow hangs over the hospital, it is Malanga village where families are feeling the pinch of the accident.
For the family of Rose Atieno, the thought of losing two members has left the entire family distraught. She said they were told that Samuel Omondi, a polytechnic student was among those who were closest to the ill-fated tanker. Atieno narrated how their two family members had brought jerrycans of petrol to their home on their first trip.
Unfortunately, when they went back to the scene, a huge fireball swept through the scene. After the blast, they started searching for their family members only to realise they were dead. They are yet to confirm if the bodies lying at the morgue are theirs. One of their relatives is in critical condition.
“Eyewitnesses told us that they died at the scene because they were among those at the front siphoning petrol,” she said.
Today, the families will line up at the Yala Sub-County hospital to have samples taken from them for DNA tests to confirm the identity of the bodies. Yesterday, several leaders including Siaya Senator James Orengo and Gem MP Elisha Odhiambo visited the victims of the tragedy.
They said that the national government would disburse Sh50,000 to all the affected families.
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