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Highway inferno

By RHONDOR DOWLAT Tuesday, December 14 2010

click on pic to zoom in
SURVIVOR: Devindra Anil Matadin is attended to by paramedics near the scene of the accident along the Churchill Roosevelt Highway in Arouca yesterday....
SURVIVOR: Devindra Anil Matadin is attended to by paramedics near the scene of the accident along the Churchill Roosevelt Highway in Arouca yesterday....

TWO MEN were injured following a massive explosion and ensuing fireball along the Churchill Roosevelt Highway in Arouca yesterday after a fuel tanker transporting diesel collided with a tractor.

The injured men were identified as fuel tanker driver Andre Rodriguez, 41, of Mission Road, Freeport and tractor operator Devindra Anil Matadin, 31, of College Road, St Augustine. The tanker is owned by VKD Transport Limited and was contracted by NP.

The tanker, which was proceeding east flipped over and ended upside down facing west. Upon impact, the 6,000 - 8,000 gallon tanker, burst into flames as it skidded off the highway onto the grassy median (side of the highway). Thick plumes of smoke covered both the east and west bound lanes of the highway making visibility nil.

As a result both sides of the highway near the fire were cordoned off by police causing massive traffic along both the east and west bound lanes and where possible, vehicular traffic being diverted onto the Eastern Main Road.

Rodriguez managed to crawl out of the burning tanker and was later rushed to the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC) in Mount Hope by a motorist, before police and paramedics arrived at the scene. He suffered severe burns.

Matadin escaped with minor head injuries including a laceration to the left side of his body. He was taken to the Arima District Hospital via an ambulance.

According to a police report, at about 8.55 am the tanker was proceeding along the left lane of the highway and when it overtook the tractor, its back wheel hooked onto the tractor’s rotator. The tanker instantly spun the tractor around facing west and dragged it for several metres.

Eventually, the two vehicles separated, causing the tanker to flip and land upside down bursting into flames. Matadin, police said, managed to gain control of his machinery and stopped before speeding off west along the east bound lane, in a bid to escape the inferno.

Motorists, police said, escaped injuries and collision as they were able to stop their vehicles a safe distance from the scene. Within minutes a party of officers from the Arouca Police Station, the Northern Division Task Force, Special Anti-Crime Unit (SAUTT) and Prisons Service arrived and cordoned off both east and west bounds of the highway from the Piarco Boulevard intersection to the Maloney intersection.

A SAUTT helicopter was also despatched to the area and hovered overhead for over an hour.

Fire appliances from the Tunapuna and Arima Fire Stations also quickly responded and were able to extinguish the blaze using several gallons of three percent Aqueous Film Forming Foam. The fire officers then packed up and left at about 10.30 am.

Deeming the highway safe, police officers reopened both lanes of the highway leaving to stand guard one Police officer identified as Sgt Welch of the Arouca Police Station.

However, at about 10.57 am, the burnt out wreckage of the tanker exploded sending onlookers and members of the media scampering to safety.

Some onlookers, risked their lives, and jumped onto the east bound lane of the highway, waving frantically and shouting to motorists to stop. Thick billowing smoke completely covered the highway, again blocking all visibility for several minutes.

At about 11.45 am a fire tender arrived, however, officers had difficulties with the foam and were unable to extinguish the fire. Another tender was called in and on arrival at 12.10 pm, officers extinguished the blaze after 15 minutes. Both lanes of the highway were again re-opened to traffic shortly after 1 pm.

NP Divisional Manager (Production and Distribution) Glen Roberts who was at the scene told members of the media that an investigation into the accident has been “immediately launched”. He claimed that he had “no in depth” information.

“I heard about the accident. I am not quite sure as to what happened. The tanker’s driver, I was told, received burns but I do not know the extent,” Roberts said, adding that the tanker was heading to deliver diesel to a NP gas station in Arima.

At the EWMSC, medical sources confirmed that Rodriguez arrived at the facility with burns over a “large portion of his body” and was treated at the Adult Accident and Emergency Facility. Newsday learnt that he was intubated (an endotracheal tube was inserted into his mouth and then airway) and heavily sedated. Rodriguez’s wife arrived at the hospital shortly after noon and remained at her husband’s bedside into the late afternoon, when he was taken to the surgical theatre.

Meanwhile, Matadin arrived at the Arima District Hospital at about 10.40 am and was placed on a stretcher on the corridor for over six hours before he was seen by the medical doctor and discharged.

An x-ray was only done on Matadin at about 1.30 pm. At about 4.45 pm he was taken to the hospital’s dressing room for stitches to the back of his head and dressing. He was subsequently discharged shortly before 6 pm.

Matadin thanked God for saving his life but expressed disgust over the treatment he received at the hospital. “It was so unfair that they had me on a stretcher for over six hours. They probably moved me to about three locations along the corridor before the doctor actually came to check me out,” Matadin said.

Matadin said that after leaving Piarco, he got onto the highway and as normal began proceeding along the highway at a slow pace along the left lane. Matadin said he looked back and realised that a huge truck was quickly approaching at the rear. “I clearly remembered there were no vehicle in front of me and the truck was quickly approaching from behind. Then I realised that the truck pulled onto the right lane, overtaking me.

“In a flash, something from the truck hit me and hooked the tractor swinging the entire tractor around, me facing west. Then suddenly, before I knew it, the truck cut loose of me and when I looked back I saw it flip and on impact, burst into flames,” Matadin recalled.

“The only thing I was thinking was to get away alive. I thank God that I was able to control the tractor and that it did not flip too otherwise I would have been killed,” Matadin said. Investigations are continuing.“I heard about the accident. I am not quite sure as to what happened. The tanker’s driver, I was told, received burns but I do not know the extent,” Roberts said, adding that the tanker was heading to deliver diesel to a NP gas station in Arima.

At the EWMSC, medical sources confirmed that Rodriguez arrived at the facility with burns over a “large portion of his body” and was treated at the Adult Accident and Emergency Facility. Newsday learnt that he was intubated (an endotracheal tube was inserted into his mouth and then airway) and heavily sedated. Rodriguez’ wife arrived at the hospital shortly after noon and remained at her husband’s bedside into the late afternoon, when he was taken to the surgical theatre.

Meanwhile, Matadin arrived at the Arima District Hospital at about 10.40 am and was placed on a stretcher on the corridor for over six hours before he was seen by the medical doctor and discharged.

An X-ray was only done on Matadin at about 1.30 pm. At about 4.45 pm he was taken to the hospital’s dressing room for stitches to the back of his head and dressing. He was subsequently discharged shortly before 6 pm. Matadin thanked God for saving his life but expressed disgust over the treatment he received at the hospital. “It was so unfair that they had me on a stretcher for over six hours. They probably moved me to about three locations along the corridor before the doctor actually came to check me out,” Matadin said.

Matadinalse said that after leaving Piarco, he got onto the highway and as normal began proceeding along the highway at a slow pace along the left lane. Matadin said he looked back and realised that a huge truck was quickly approaching at the rear. “I clearly remembered there were no vehicle in front of me and the truck was quickly approaching from behind. Then I realised that the truck pulled onto the right lane, overtaking me. “In a flash, something from the truck hit me and hooked the tractor swinging the entire tractor around, me facing west. Then suddenly, before I knew it, the truck cut loose of me and when I looked back I saw it flip and on impact, burst into flames,” Matadin recalled.

“The only thing I was thinking was to get away alive. I thank God that I was able to control the tractor and that it did not flip too otherwise I would have been killed,” Matadin said. Investigations are continuing.

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