Cameroon-Martin Nkemngu: The First Journalist to visit Lake Nyos after the Disaster

When we arrived at Nyos village, we found that nearly all living things had perished. The villages affected were Nyos, Subum, Chah and Fang.

Martin Nkemngu recounts:

On August 21, 1986 when the Lake Nyos disaster occurred, I was serving in Bamenda as Provincial Chief of SOPECAM for the North West.




I heard the news on Friday August 22, 1986 from one Mr. Titang Richard who was at the time the Superintendent in charge of the Bamenda Prison. Although on annual leave, I had to cut short and rush to the Governor’s Office where initial reports indicated that 40 persons had lost their lives in a strange gas disaster in Nyos, Menchum Division.


On Saturday August 23, I travelled down to Wum with late Governor Walson Ntuba, the Legion Commander of the Gendarmerie, Colonel Nguidjo, Provincial Chief of Security, Denis Nukuna and Provincial Delegate of Information and Culture, Gideon Taka. With a few oxygen masks, we arrived Wum and met the Senior Divisional Officer for Menchum, Fai Yengo Francis who gave a graphic account of the catastrophe that had claimed hundreds of lives.

The Governor and his security chiefs stayed in Wum while I and Mr. Charles Tasong, a photographer moved to the disaster zone to see things for ourselves. On arrival at a village called Chah we found the first 40 victim corpses. I was the first journalist to arrive at the scene of the disaster. Meanwhile, the first news report to the world was made on VOA by Rev. Father Tenhorn, a Dutch Millhill missionary who had visited the area in an Helimission helicopter.

When we arrived at Nyos village, we found that nearly all living things had perished. The villages affected were Nyos, Subum, Chah and Fang. In Nyos we saw hundreds of bloating corpses and thousands of animal carcasses including cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, dogs, cats and birds.

Immediate aftermath of 1986 Lake Nyos Disaster

Survivors of the disaster recounted that at about 9pm on Thursday August 21, 1986, there was a powerful explosion in the lake after villagers had complained it had been boiling for five days. About three minutes after explosion, a violent wind started blowing from the lake to the south, invading the village of Fang, Chah, lower Nyos and Subum. The gas they said, was too hot and suffocated all living things. All those affected had burns on their bodies.

A survivor getting treated from degrees of burn. (Photo Credit: Peter Turnley/Getty Images)

On Saturday evening at about 6pm a team of experts arrived from Yaounde by a military plane headed by the Director of Health Prof. Kaptue. Other members included Dr. Muna, cardiologist with the University Teaching Hospital (CUSS) and Dr Simo Moyo, chief of Anaesthesiology in CUSS.

On Sunday August 24, 1986, after having sent a message of condolence to the affected families, President Paul Biya paid an unannounced abrupt visit to Bamenda to appraise the situation for himself. He held a working session with all those involved in handling the disaster and announced measures to cope with the situation.

Lime covers the corpse of a villager killed by the release of toxic gas. (Photo Credit: Thierry Orban/ Getty Images)

The first assistance came from Israel whose Prime Minister Shimon Perez had arrived in Cameroon on Sunday August 24 for an official visit. With the help of some survivors we obtained a list of more than one thousand people who were killed.

Hence the figure of 40 which was officially announced was revised to more than 1,000. In all, nearly 2,000 people perished in the Lake Nyos toxic gas disaster. It is hard to forget the horrible experience that we lived in that catastrophe


Source: Jakiri Media

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