The famous Mile One Market in Mile One Diobu, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, was razed by fire in the morning, following a fire outbreak which started in the early hours of today, Tuesday, December 17.
Some of the eyewitnesses said the fire may have started around 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.
Hundreds of traders, sympathizers and onlookers flooded the area. Some traders were rushed to the hospital for medical attention after discovering that their shops and goods have been destroyed.
To worsen the situation, a driver who stole someone's car loaded with goods while trying to escape from the police patrol van ran over a boy, injuring him badly.
Some residents of the area report gunshots and siren sounds, others say there were explosion sounds as cartons of insecticidesand perfumes were popping due to intense heat.
The fire razed the entire make-shift market, and damaged a two-storey residential building that houses some lock-up stores. The state fire service and that of the Nigerian Ports Authority put out the fire and prevented it from spreading to adjoining streets and offices.
The office of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and that of the Federated Correspondents Chapel of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) are two blocks away from the inferno.
The state Commissioner for Special Duties, Dickson Omunnakwe, said that the fire took everybody by surprise since his ministry organised fire safety training for the traders last week.
Mr. Omunnakwe commended the management of the NPA for responding to the distress call made by the government.
He advised the traders to avoid stocking inflammable items in the market, but said that the cause of the fire was still unknown.
The Chairman of the Mile 1 Market Traders Association, Keneth Eze, said that the traders lost goods worth millions of naira to the fire.
Mr. Eze said that they had lost all they had to the fire and appealed to the state government and public spirited individuals to assist them get back to business.
One of the traders, Chimdi Eze, lost jewelries worth more than N2 million in the flames. He just received stock worth N600, 000 for the Christmas sales.
"I just lost everything to the fire," he lamented.
Another trader, Chinecherem Ndubuisi, said he lost electronics worth more than N3 million. Starting afresh would be very difficult for him now, as he does not have enough capital.
Ebere Okoye, a trader and resident of the burnt residential building said her entire life savings and property had been consumed by the inferno. A widow and mother of four, she said she did not know how she could provide accommodation for and feed her children.
"Ever since I lost my husband, life has been difficult and will even be harder now that I have lost everything. Government and well-meaning Nigerians should come to my aid because as it stands now, the only thing keeping me alive is my children."
Other traders decried losing not only their goods to the inferno, but also several thousands of naira in cash.
Christopher Uwajeh, a witness, praising the resilience of the firemen, said the police and men of the State Security Service arrived the scene to curtail breakdown of law and order.
He expressed regret that economic activities would be affected, as other traders in the state might exploit the situation to hike price of their goods for more profits due to the law of demand and supply.