NO fewer than 18 persons were injured after a gas cylinder exploded in the office of the Central Bank of Nigeria in Calabar, the Cross River State capital on Friday.
Two victims were said to be in critical condition.
The explosion, which happened at about 11am, shattered the banking hall of the apex bank.
The bank, located along Calabar Road, created a traffic jam between 11am and 2pm as combined security team of the Navy, Army, Police, Civil Defence and others assisted officials of the state Fire Service to bring the situation under control.
Thousands of passersby and commuters scampered for safety as the explosion was initially mistaken for a bomb explosion.
But the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Henry Fadairo, later confirmed that the explosion was caused by gas cylinders.
Fadairo said that the explosion, which had caused panic in the state capital, was not a bomb explosion as speculated in some corners.
He said, “The team of expert handling the situation confirmed to me that 18 persons were injured while two others are said to be in a critical situation.
“It is not a bomb blast as it is already being speculated in some corners. The police in company of the Navy, Army, FRSC and the Civil Defence were on the ground to help the state fire service to bring the situation under control.
“We also assisted the medical team to convey the victims to the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, where they are currently being attended to.”
An eyewitness, Mr. Ndubuisi Okeke, who said he was coming out of an Access Bank branch beside the CBN, when the explosion occurred, said it instantly caused panic within the area.
A nurse attached to the state fire service, who preferred anonymity, said that she prayed the victims survive because some of them were badly injured.
“While we were trying to convey the victims to the bus, some of them were bleeding badly. I am praying that most of them do not die because the explosion really affected them,” she said.
Meanwhile, the CBN office is currently under tight security with armed policemen positioned strategically around the premises. Normal vehicular movement has been restored as of the time of filing this report.
At the gate of the bank, relatives of the employees were seen crying. They demanded to see their relatives working in the bank.
When approached, an official of the bank declined comment, saying, “We are traumatised right now. No one can talk.”
The Acting Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 6, Calabar, Mr. Baba-Adisa Bolanta, who also inspected the scene, said the explosion was suspected to be from the gas cylinder in the central air-conditioning unit.
“This is just an initial assessment, and it is not confirmed yet. It is when a final result has been given that we will confirm what really happened,” he said.
Also, the Director-General of State Emergency Management Agency, Mr. John Inaku, described the disaster as unfortunate.
He appealed to the public to remain calm as relevant security agencies were on top of the situation.
Meanwhile, the Cross River State Government has advised the general public to exercise restraint following the explosion.
Speaking shortly after appraising the level of damage caused by the explosion, the state Deputy Governor, Prof. Ivara Esu, expressed shock at the enormity of devastation.
Esu assured the CBN employees of the state government support to enable it to continue normal operations while investigation and rehabilitation work would commence.
The state CBN Controller, Dr. Graham Kalio, said the explosion occurred suddenly at the banking hall with its attendant destructive affects resonating across the building.