Acid Rain Scare: Confusion, Panic Everywhere

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Text messages emanating from the National Aeronautic and Space Adminstration (NASA) had sent jitters into some members of the public, especially Port Harcourt residents.
The text message had warned members of the public to avoid being exposed to rainfall following the possibility of an acid rain from 20th -28th March, 2010.
According to the message, “The dark circle that appeared round the moon on 17th February is an indication of an acid rain. This happens once every 750 years.”
The text message continued,” It rains like normal but may cause skin cancer if you expose yourself.”
The text message had generated heated debate between NASA and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET). Both Federal agencies had expressed varied views over the matter, thereby throwing the public into more confusion.
In view of the NIMET and NASA discordant positions, one expected members of the public to ignore the warning, but an opinion poll conducted by Weekend Tide on the matter indicated that a lot of people never took the message lightly.
Hence on Wednesday afternoon when the rain started falling many residents of Port Harcourt were seen scampering for cover, both at Rumuola and Mile One flyover areas, causing panic.
Weekend Tide learnt that most of them had gotten the message from churches, through SMS and e-mails predicting acid rainfall in Port Harcourt and other parts of the country.
So with the hazy weather that started on Sunday this week accompanied by intense heat, many residents scurried to take cover when the rain, which lasted for about 30 minutes, began on Wednesday at about 4.00 pm.
Shortly after the rain ceased, the Weekend Tide conducted a survey. One Rose Osogeme said,” why should God punish his children? It is him that gives rain,” Adding that though she heard about the message she did not take cover from the rain.
For Osogeme, “I don’t believe everything I read in the newspapers because many people give fake information.
Another resident, Prince Okafor stated that even though the rain touched him, “I don’t believe God would allow any thing to happen to me.” He added that since after experiencing the rain, he has not seen any strange thing on his body.
The same view was expressed by Mr. Chidiebere Micheal, a vendor. He told Weekend Tide that he was soaked by the rain and have not felt any irritation on his body after the incident.
On the other hand, Mr. Seiyifa Sisieri, an electrician did not allow the rain to touch him. He told Weekend Tide he had been informed by a relative about the rain, so he ran for cover immediately the rain started that fateful Wednesday.
“I observed one thing after the rain,” Sisieri said, “most of the cars under the rain had brown stains on them.”
A fish seller, Julie Daso ran to take cover immediately the rain started. She had abandoned her two children and she ran back to carry them to safety.
Another resident Mercy Azuka said she avoided the rain totally. “I learnt that some government agencies, saddled with the responsibility of monitoring the weather are still debating the issue.”
Azuka had ran for cover in a shop, noting, “I didn’t want to take risk considering the fact that once the rain touches you, you may likely contract skin cancer.”
Claris Azuatalam told Weekend Tide that she was indoors when she noticed signs of rain. “Prevention” they say, “is better than cure.” I decided that the best thing to do was to remain indoors until the rain stopped.”
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) had reported that there were presence of salty particles on the bodies of vehicles after the rainfall.
Speaking on the matter, a Professor of Climatology at the Department of Geography in the University of Nigeria Nsukka, Prof Raymond Ampadike had blamed gas flaring by oil companies in the Niger Delta as the major cause of acid rain.
He said that acid rain could fall within the Niger Delta region because of the huge quantity of sulphur dioxide and methane in the air because of gas flaring.
Anyadike declared, “There is no way other parts of the country will experience acid rain, even if there is wind shift, it will dilute the acid before it reaches any other part.
Acid rain is not new to those living in Niger Delta where there has been oil exploration for years. He therefore called for the stopping of gas flaring in the region.
Meanwhile, Zonal Coordinator of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Umesi Emenike said the agency had no information about the acid rain.
“NEMA did not receive any information concerning acid rain. If we had, the appropriate agencies would have alerted the populace to avoid stampede”.
But Director of Institute of Geo-Sciences and Space Technology in the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Prof. Songo Teme told Weekend Tide that the message was real.
“Please, I would advice people not to expose themselves for their safety,” Prof. Teme remarked.
The professor advised residents to cover themselves properly under rain in the next one week. He affirmed that such incident occurs in every 750 years. It has been recorded at our station in Toro, Bauchi right now and the weather comes with dryness and cough in human beings”.
Contrarily, Regional Manager of NIMET, Mr. Bernard Alilunu said such message was unconfirmed.”
Worried over the source of the text message, he recalled that a month ago a similar message had been sent to members of the public over the poisoning of meat and other food items from the northern part of the country.
However, he attributed the hazy weather as a pressure intensification from the first region of the dust which is the Sahara desert.
Mr. Alilunu stated that once it rains, the dust is transported down to the Southern part, but noted that the situation was improving and would not get bad as it was earlier in the week.
The weather, he further remarked had affected air transportation, as a lot of airlines cancelled their flights because of visibility problems. He noted that it was not peculiar to Port Harcourt alone.