At least 160 killed as Nige­ria church col­lapses

Cam­eras be­ing seized, Jour­nal­ists told to leave

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Me­tal gird­ers and the roof of a crowded church col­lapsed onto wor­ship­pers in south­ern Nige­ria, killing at least 160 peo­ple with the toll likely to rise, a hospi­tal di­rec­tor said yes­ter­day. Mor­tu­ar­ies in the city of Uyo are over­flow­ing from Saturday’s tragedy, med­i­cal di­rec­tor Etete Peters of the Univer­sity of Uyo Teach­ing Hospi­tal told The As­so­ci­ated Press. The Reign­ers Bi­ble Church In­ter­na­tional was still un­der construction and work­ers had been rush­ing to fin­ish it in time for Saturday’s cer­e­mony to or­dain founder Akan Weeks as a bishop, con­gre­gants said.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple, in­clud­ing Akwa Ibom state Gov Udom Em­manuel, were in­side when me­tal gird­ers crashed onto wor­ship­pers and the cor­ru­gated iron roof caved in, they said. Em­manuel and Weeks, who preaches that God will make his fol­low­ers rich, es­caped un­hurt. Scream­ing sur­vivors were stream­ing out and there were cries from in­jured vic­tims when com­puter pro­gram an­a­lyst Ukeme Ey­ibio rushed to the scene.

“There were trapped bod­ies, parts of bod­ies, blood all over the place and peo­ple’s hand­bags and shoes scat­tered,” Ey­ibio said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. He had parked his car out­side the com­plex to make a phone call, heard a deaf­en­ing ex­plo­sion he thought was a bomb only to see that the church had dis­ap­peared, he said. Ey­ibio and three oth­ers man­aged to drag 10 wounded peo­ple from an over­flow area for of wor­ship­pers just out­side the col­lapsed church but they did not en­ter the main struc­ture be­cause a construction worker among them warned of the danger of a fur­ther col­lapse. The worker called his boss at Julius Berger construction com­pany, who sent a crane to help lift de­bris off bod­ies.

While they waited for the crane, Ey­ibio tried to help a man whose legs were trapped un­der a steel girder. “I rushed to my car, got out the tire jack and used that to get the beam off his legs,” he said. “We man­aged to get him out but we saw oth­ers dy­ing all around us,” Ey­ibio, 27, said. “I’m so trau­ma­tized I could not sleep last night for the hor­rors re­peat­ing them­selves in my mind.”

Many un­counted vic­tims are in pri­vate mor­tu­ar­ies scat­tered across Uyo, youth leader Edikan Peters said. He said some peo­ple are se­cretly tak­ing the bod­ies of relatives to their homes be­cause mor­tu­ar­ies are over­crowded and some do not have re­frig­er­a­tion. A crane is be­ing used to lift de­bris be­lieved to be hid­ing the bod­ies of more vic­tims, said Peters. Peter said he tal­lied 90 bod­ies be­fore he was told to stop count­ing on Saturday night.

Jour­nal­ists at the scene charge that church of­fi­cials are try­ing to pre­vent them from doc­u­ment­ing the tragedy, try­ing to seize cam­eras and forc­ing some to leave the area. The gov­er­nor’s spokesman, Ek­erete Udoh, said the state govern­ment will hold an in­quiry to in­ves­ti­gate if any­one com­pro­mised build­ing stan­dards. Build­ings col­lapse of­ten in Nige­ria be­cause of en­demic cor­rup­tion with con­trac­tors us­ing sub-stan­dard ma­te­ri­als and brib­ing in­spec­tors to ig­nore shoddy work or a lack of build­ing per­mits.

In 2014, 116 peo­ple died when a multi-story guest­house of the Syn­a­gogue Church of All Na­tions col­lapsed in Lagos, Nige­ria’s largest city. Most vic­tims were vis­it­ing South African fol­low­ers of the megachurch’s in­flu­en­tial founder T. B. Joshua. Two struc­tural en­gi­neers, Joshua and church trus­tees have been ac­cused of crim­i­nal neg­li­gence and in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter af­ter a coro­ner found the build­ing col­lapsed from struc­tural fail­ures caused by de­sign and de­tail­ing errors. But Lagos state govern­ment ef­forts to bring them to court have been foiled by re­peated le­gal chal­lenges that have de­layed a trial.

UYO: In this im­age made from video taken on Saturday, Dec 10, 2016, lo­cal peo­ple sur­vey the scene af­ter a church roof col­lapsed. — AP

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