Traders and shop owners whose goods and property were destroyed in a fire outbreak at the Bishop Okoye Street market in Mile Three axis of Port Harcourt, Rivers State have appealed to Governor Nyesom Wike for support.
Similarly, a separate fire outbreak left scores of residents at the Chief Odum axis of Ogunabali in Port Harcourt were homeless as makeshift houses were destroyed.
The two fire outbreaks which occurred on Friday destroyed goods and property worth millions of Naira, as over ten shops and warehouses were destroyed, while over 20 makeshift buildings were razed in the Ogunabali fire, with those affected calling on the state government for assistance.
Our correspondent who went to the Bishop Okoye street market reports that bags of foodstuffs such as rice, beans, garri, and drinks were lost to the fire, as some of the victims were seen trying to gather some remnants.
Eyewitnesses said apart from the goods lost to the fire, hoodlums took advantage of the situation to break into some locked shops and carted away items, including cash.
Though the course of the fire could not be ascertained, eyewitnesses said they suspect that a woman who lived in one of the shops left something she was cooking unattended.
The eyewitnesses said the fire lasted for over five hours, saying the Rivers State Fire Service responded early but did not have enough water in their truck, as youths in the area also got water to help in putting out the fire just past midnight.
Speaking on the incident, Chairman of Bishop Okoye Shop Owners, Uche Okeke, decried the level of looting by the hoodlums.
“The crowd here was excess. 80 per cent of people here are not traders, some of them are hoodlums. They only came to break into peoples’ shops, stealing their goods. The fire was something that was mysterious,” he said.
Asked the number of shops burnt, he said, “We have not taken stock of the number. But I can tell you that all the warehouses in Bishop Okoye Street foodstuff market have been burnt down.
“The foodstuffs burnt are Rice, beans, garri, groundnut oil, flour and drinks were affected. Because of the looting, the Divisional Police Officer in Mile Three was here with his men and was calling for back up because of the crowd, but they didn’t come to assist him and because of that we have a lot of losses.
“The Rivers State Fire Service came, but if they had come earlier, the fire would have been stopped in one hour. Even when they came, they didn’t have enough water. We were here till past midnight.
“Some boys were here helping to stop the fire, others were here breaking into shops, even the ones that were not affected by the fire.”
One of the victims, Elder Kenan Lucky, said he lost over one thousand eight hundred bags of cement as his shop was completely burnt.
“I have about three trucks load of items here, but you can see they are all gone. What can I say, I will appreciate it if our governor can assist us financially and also help rebuild this place for us. Some bad boys went and break my other shop that was not affected in the fire and took away all the money in the safe, “he stated in an emotion-laden voice.
Efforts to reach the spokesman for the State Police Command, Nnamdi Omoni, were unsuccessful as he did not answer calls put across to him by our correspondent as of the time of filing this report.
Meanwhile, some policemen on patrol arrested a man whom they said was identified as one of the suspects who looted items during the inferno.