Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
With the world’s focus rightly on the coronavirus pandemic, the huge 15 March 2020 blast in Lagos, Nigeria, did not make much news. The explosion reduced much of Bethlehem Girls College and nearby houses to rubble. Bethlehem College is owned by the Archdiocese of Lagos and managed by the Congregation of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Students were at Mass
Apart from Sr. Henrietta Alokha, the college principal, 17 persons were confirmed dead while 25 others were injured. It is still not yet clear what caused the blast, but a gas explosion near the International Trade Fair Complex, Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State may have been the cause.
Over 200 persons were displaced as 50 nearby houses were destroyed. Some students and people in the vicinity, who sustained injuries, were treated at nearby hospitals.
Sr. Henrietta prevented a stampede
Recounting what happened, the Superior General told Vatican News, the college students were gathered in the school chapel for the Eucharistic Celebration when the students noticed an unusual white fume coming from the gate side direction towards the chapel.
The Principal, Sr. Henrietta calmly told the students to move towards the backdoor of the chapel. She shielded all the students and tried to make sure there was no stampede. Fortunately, all the students were evacuated from the chapel. Immediately afterwards, a loud blast shook the whole community and beyond leaving Bethlehem Girls College levelled to its foundation.
“Sr Henrietta Alokha and a female security staff died in the process of making sure the students were safe. Sr. Henrietta could not account for two of her students after rescuing the others, so she went in search of them even when she was told not to, she preferred to take the risk to save the missing two, who shortly after she left ran out from a different direction to join the others. Nevertheless, Sister trying to make it back after the search got hit on the head and sustained a deep cut by the collapsing building and she died on the spot,” explained Sr. Rowland.
Some staff members were trapped and died in their living quarters
Five other staff members who were in the staff quarters were also killed when buildings collapsed.
“In our moment of grief, we commiserate with the families of all those who lost their lives and homes. We pray for the repose of their souls and quick recovery for those injured. The cause of this explosion has not really been ascertained; however, some allude it to a truck that hit gas cylinders, while others believe it was a bomb blast. Whatever, it is, will not bring the dead back, but one thing is certain the society has failed Sr. Henrietta Alokha and all those who died in the inferno. May they Rest in Peace,” said the Superior General of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.