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One year after Apiatse explosion... Victims cry for more help

BY: Timothy Ngnenbe
• Aerial view of the reconstruction site at Appiatse
Aerial view of the reconstruction site at Appiatse

While 46-year-old Joseph Kobina Arhin Jnr is fighting for his life, some families are still mourning the loss of 16 relatives and loved ones, a year after disaster struck Appiatse, a community near Bogoso in the Prestea Huni Valley District in the Western Region.

Today marks exactly a year since the incident which wiped away almost the entire community of about 1,000 residents and left almost half the residents with injuries.

Daily Graphic checks indicate that 16 people are still receiving medical treatment.

Some of the survivors of the tragedy are still fighting for their lives in hospital while others now live with permanent disabilities, such as visual and hearing impairments.

The journey

Arthur was on his journey from Wassa Akropong to Takoradi on January 20, 2022, little did he know that he would be a victim of an explosion that would send him treading on the path between life and death.

Mr Arhin Jnr, the head of the Physical Planning Department at the Wassa Amenfi Municipal Assembly in the Western Region and an engineering student at Accra Institute of Technology, had examinations to write in Accra on Saturday, January 22, 2022; but he needed to first attend to a family business in Takoradi.

The journey was smooth for the father of three until the commercial vehicle in which he was travelling came face to face with a gridlock at Appiatse, created by a truck that had caught fire in the middle of the road.

"We saw the truck burning in the middle of the road. Vehicles could not move from either sides of the road, and that created some traffic. Our driver asked us to get down and get a safer place to stand, while he makes a U-turn. In less than a minute after we got down, I heard a deafening 'boooom', and that was it! The whole place was engulfed in smoke and dust so no one could see anything.

"When the dust settled, I was standing, but I saw people lying on the ground in pools of blood. I could feel a sharp pain in my left leg and I tried to move it but I realised that it was completely shattered," Arthur told the Daily Graphic yesterday.

"I called my wife who works as a nurse at Effia Nkwanta Government Hospital to tell her what had happened, and she told me not to panic. She then called the Wassa Akropong Government Hospital Theatre Ward and two of the health officials came to help me,” Mr Arthur Jnr, who is still bedridden a year after the disaster, further recounted.

He said a man transported him on a tricycle from the accident scene towards Akropong, where he was travelling from, until they met the health officials that had been dispatched to take care of him.

Mr Arhin told the Daily Graphic that after a series of surgeries and medical procedures at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) in Kumasi for seven months, there was still no end in sight for his predicament.

"I lost my knee joint and the bones around there,” he said, pointing to his knees.

“I have already gone through five surgeries, and the doctors said there has to be another surgery to correct the leg," the head of Physical Planning at Wassa Amenfi said.

Deaths

The explosion of the 10-tonne dynamites being transported to a mining site at Bogoso also left 26-year-old Diana Essandoh a widow, who is yet to recover from the loss of her husband, Emmanuel Quainoo.

The couple had ended their fast for that day and were in a sombre mood anticipating only divine favours and anything far from a harrowing disaster and the sudden death of any of them, obviously not even in such bizarre circumstances.

When the truck carrying mining explosives exploded in the heart of the Appiatse town on that fateful day, the 29-year-old carpenter was swept away, with some of his internal organs gushing out.

"He was a caring husband; and the two of us worked hard with the hope that things will get better for us in life, but he is gone,” Ms Essandoh said in tears.

The sad twist of life through the event of that day crushed the couple's dream to build a good future for their three children – two boys and a girl, aged eight, seven and five.

The explosion claimed 13 lives immediately, including that of 15-months-old Ella Baidoo.

The sad event also claimed the lives of Michael Afriyie, 19; Justice Kwesi Takwa, 21; Emmanuel Awinguba, 24; Eric Gyimah, 24, and Emmanuel Quainoo, 29.

Such was the case with Isaac Anane, 35; Daniel Armah, 35; Enoch Obeng, 40; Ebenezer Anan Jackson, 43; Martin Kweku, 43; Isaac Buayin, 45; and Akua Nyame, 80.

The death toll rose to 16 when three more of those who sustained serious injuries during the explosion lost the battle for their lives.

Paul Asare, 38, whose belly was slit open during the explosion, succumbed to death at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) in Kumasi, while John Christmas Opare, could not survive his broken spine at the Cape Coast Teaching Hospital.

In spite of fighting hard to overcome the pain of her broken leg to the point of amputation, Ama Nsowa, 59, also yielded to death at Appiatse.

Injuries

According to the 2021 Population and Housing Census (PHC), 858 people lived in Appiatse. However, the assembly member for the Beppo Electoral Area, which includes Appiatse, Thomas Yaw Enyam, said data collated after the January 20, 2022 disaster showed that 1,036 people lived in the Appiatse community.

Figures the Prestea-Huni Valley District Assembly made available to the Daily Graphic showed that 498 people suffered various forms of injury during the explosion.

“Doctors have declared that some of the people who sustained injuries cannot see with both eyes, while others have developed hearing impairment because of the sound that came with the explosion,” Mr Enyam said.

The assembly member added that there were still people carrying foreign particles of the vehicle carrying the 10-tonne explosives in their bodies.

“They have visited hospitals and gone for reviews, but there are still foreign particles in their bodies and it is not easy for them. When they walk, you can see that things are not well with them,” he added.

Financial burden

Aside from the loss of lives and life-threatening injuries that came with the explosion, the disaster has imposed a heavy financial burden on survivors. The situation is dire with those who are still on sick beds.

For instance, Mr Arhin told the Daily Graphic that since he was discharged from KATH in August last year, he had been attending reviews every month at an average cost of GH¢5,000 per visit.

"At the initial stages of the treatment at KATH, I spent GH¢10,500 and got a refund of GH¢7,000 from the Appiatse Relief Fund. Every review I go costs about GH¢5,000 because we go with an ambulance or sometimes, a chartered car; and I have to go and lodge in a hotel a day ahead of every scheduled review," he said.

Mr Arhin added that he found it difficult paying the fees of two of his children, aged 11 and five.

"They attend Greater Height International School at Takoradi Fijai. This term their fees are GH¢6,000 and I even contemplated taking them to a public school because I could not pay their fees. I am now at the mercy of my wife," he said.

Ms Essandoh also lost her petty trading job after the death of her husband and could barely fend for herself and the three children left behind by Mr Quainoo.

She is worried that the dream they had for their three kids may now be a wild goose chase.

Many of the residents of Appiatse are still struggling to regain their economic activities, a year after the explosion.

No money

The Appiatse Disaster Relief Committee (ADRC) was set up as the community-based body to see to the welfare issues of the residents of Appiatse, including taking care of the education, health care and livelihood needs of the people.

The committee operates using funds from the Appiatse Disaster Relief Fund (ADRF).

When the Daily Graphic contacted the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the ADRC, Thywill Quarshie, during a visit to the Appiatse Reconstruction project site last Wednesday, he said the committee did not have enough funds to meet the daily needs of the people.

Mr Quarshie said the ADRC was overwhelmed by financial demands, especially from persons who were still battling for their lives in hospitals.

He said there were16 people in health conditions that required the ADRC to still spend a lot of money on them.

"For instance, on February 6, Mr Arhin will be going for review at KATH; on February 7, Gabriel Aidoo will be going to Duayaw Nkwanta; on February 14, Kwaku Nuako will go to Duayaw Nkwanta; last Tuesday (January 17), Nancy Nyarko was in Tarkwa,” he said, showing this reporter a schedule of appointments of the victims.

" In the past one year, these people have not worked, and in the case of Mr Arhin, he has not been able to walk for a year now; Samuel Donkor is still bedridden and not able to walk, so if such a person is going to the hospital, it becomes a huge challenge for them and our committee," Mr Quarshie said.

The ADRC PRO added that when there was money in the relief fund the ADRC paid the transport fares for senior high school students who were resuming school and registration fees for basic schools, "but the accounts ran dry so we decided to segment, pick and choose what to do,” he added.

The PRO further said there were times the victims brought receipts of medical bills for reimbursement but there had been no money, saying “If we don’t have we do not give until we cry to the world and someone comes to donate.”

Mr Quarshie noted, for instance, that donations from Ghana Association of Small-Scale Miners (GNASSM) of GH¢50,000; and Church of Christ of GH¢12,000 came in when the ADRC had no money in its coffers to reimburse patients.

"The donations were godsend because their money came at a time that one person's bill was GH¢17,000 and others were around GH¢5,000. When those donations came, they were a saviour, so we quickly reimbursed them,” the PRO said.

He added that the ADRC was currently working because of the GH¢100,000 the Church of Pentecost recently gave to the committee, "otherwise, we would have been singing a different song by now."

Touching specifically on Mr Arhin, he said the ADRC had spent "not less than GH¢50,000" on his health so far.

"It is true that sometimes the reimbursement of his claims delays, but that happens when we do not have money to immediately do so. It delays but not denied, because when money comes, we give to him. Even at times, the Municipal Chief Executive (MCE) uses his personal money to pay," Mr Quarshie added.

Appeal for funds

He appealed for an arrangement to be made such that a certain percentage of monies paid into the Appiatse Support Fund would be channelled into the relief fund for the ADRC to work effectively.

He also called on corporate bodies, individuals and organisations to continue to support the committee by contributing to the relief fund.

Psychological battles

Also worrying are the psychological battles some of the victims and their relatives have to fight for about a year now.

For instance, Mr Arhin said his current situation of being reduced from a physically fit man to become bedridden was the worst psychological battle one could fight.

"I am totally down. I was not born a cripple but now I cannot walk. Someone who was an active worker and a surveyor for that matter; now, I cannot go out; I have to be doing everything in the room.”

"You cannot move; you cannot do anything; and it feels like being in prison. If I sit back and look at myself in a mirror and see how I was and how I am now, I cry," he said.

Mr Arhin added that the sound that emanated from the explosion at Appiatse had left a permanent scar on his mind such that he could no longer stand any sound in his environment.

"Anytime I hear any sound that is like an explosion, I go through another emotional stress. There are vulcanisers around my place and anytime I hear sounds from them, I feel the re-enactment of the Appiatse incident. Anytime I hear articulated trucks move, I get scared," he said.

He also lived in the constant fear that he might just lose his life sooner than later.

"I had to defer my Civil Engineering course while a substantive officer has taken over my position at the Wassa Amenfi Municipal Assembly. As a human being who has feelings, if I think about all these things, I get more depressed,” Mr Arhin said.

Ms Essandoh also said although her husband died a year ago, the events of that day were fresh in her mind.

Dealing with trauma

When contacted on how to deal with such psychological battles, a Clinical Psychologist and Acting Director of the University of Professional Studies (UPSA) Medical Directorate, Dr Isaac Newman Arthur, said there was the need for effective coping strategies and professional help to reduce the impact of the traumatic explosion on the victims.

He observed that while traumatic events had immediate and lifelong implications, the impact of such events could be reduced depending on how a person was able to cope and adjust with the new norm.

“Unfortunately, many people go through major life events without receiving the needed help which can lead to psychological and social problems. Family life or relationships are also greatly affected, and more so, the person’s quest to pursue meaningful life goals,” he said.

He stressed that continued psychological and social support was needed in the rehabilitation of people affected by any traumatic event, especially of the magnitude of the Appiatse disaster.

Dr Arthur said such support would help to deal with common psychological issues that might be prevailing in the form of “depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, suicidal ideation and behaviours.”

“Persons going through any traumatic event need to be clinically assessed, and the needed interventions instituted because sometimes, traumatic events may lead to chronic physical illnesses or worsen a person's pre-existing medical condition,” he said.

Dr Arthur, who is also the Public Relations Officer of the Ghana Psychological Association, noted that a holistic approach was needed in managing persons going through any trauma since psychotherapy also had great benefits in helping to deal with the emotional pain, developing effective coping strategies and instituting specific therapies in dealing with specific issues resulting from the impact of the trauma.

Demands

While commending the government for taking steps to reconstruct Appiatse, Mr Enyam called on the contractors to put some urgency in the work to complete it on time.

He also said processes must be rolled out to ensure adequate compensation for all victims of the disaster.

“Once we are talking about loss of lives and people who suffered disabilities, there should be an education endowment fund to take care of the children.

“We have been promised schools, markets and clinics in the new Appiatse, but we should also think about other things. My people want all processes to be followed to ensure that they get justice. The story should not end at getting our buildings fixed for us. There should be some compensation from the company that caused the disaster,” he said.

The assembly member also called on the authorities to release the structural integrity test report on buildings that were not ravaged by the explosion.

“We are pleading with the Chairman of the Appiatse Reconstruction Committee to liaise with the Ghana Institution of Engineers and the surveyors to get the report released so that we will know the buildings that will be worked on and those that will not be touched,” Mr Enyam said.

Assurances

Meanwhile, the Deputy Minister of Lands and Natural Resources in charge of Forestry and Lands, Benito Owusu-Bio, told the Daily Graphic that the government would go every length to ensure that the Appiatse community was rebuilt to give the people permanent accommodation by the end of September, this year.

Mr Owusu-Bio, who is the Chairman of the Appiatse Reconstruction Implementation Committee, also said steps were being taken to restore economic life to Appiatse after the reconstruction of the town.

The MCE for Prestea-Huni Valley, Dr Isaac Dasmani, said the assembly was working to address teething welfare issues confronting the people of Appiatse.

"One year on, we can say that it has been so far, so good because we have eight people who are still in critical condition and nine people who still have metals in their bodies. Most of them have recovered," he said.

Dr Dasmani said some of the residents of Appiatse had returned to active economic life.

He urged members of the public to be extra careful and take safety issues seriously.

"Some of the people who died or sustained injuries were going to film the burning vehicle instead of taking cover. We need to learn from this experience," the former lecturer of the University of Cape Coast cautioned.