Dozens of worshippers died and several others were injured when a church building collapsed on Saturday in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital.
Governor Udom Emmanuel, who was the special guest of honour at the Bishopric Ordination ceremony held at the Reigners Bible Church, along Uyo Village Road, was among the people inside the church during the Saturday morning tragedy.
A report said about 20 people died in the tragedy while another report put the death toll at 50.
The founder of the church, Pastor Akan Weeks, who was to be installed as Bishop, also escaped death by whisker along with other clerics.
The incident, according to Paul Effiong, a member of the church, happened at about 11:00 a.m, soon after the introduction of the governor and his entourage.
“Immediately after the introduction of the governor and his team, the next session was to be the offering time when suddenly, a noise announced the caving-in of the building, resulting in a stampede. The governor was not hit because the elevated section of the church where the dignitaries sat was not seriously affected by the incident,” he explained.
Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the governor, Ekerete Udoh, several members of the protocol team and journalists were among those injured during the incident.
A press statement by the CPS conveying the condolence of the governor reads: “His Excellency, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Udom Emmanuel was present at the church service during the incident and thereafter personally supervised rescue operations and evacuation of the injured to the hospital. The state government will undertake the medical treatment of the victims.
“A high-powered panel of enquiry is being constituted to ascertain the immediate and remote factors leading to the collapse of the church building with a view to forestalling the recurrence of such incident and bring to book persons found to have compromised professional standards in the construction of the building.”
At the Life Care Hospital by Nwanniba Road, three persons were confirmed dead on arrival, while several others were being attended to at the emergency unit of the hospital, when Sunday Tribune visited.
“We have critical situation in our hands right now, our facilities here have been overstretched because of the influx of unexpected number of patients arising from the building collapse of the Reigners Bible Church, and because of that, so far, we have lost three persons in this hospital,” a senior nurse, who would not want her name in print, told Sunday Tribune.
It was also gathered that some worshippers injured during the incident died at the Uyo General Hospital, where they were rushed for medical emergencies.
A journalist, Mr. Chris Ikpoto, of the Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation (AKBC), who arrived the scene of the collapse earlier, confirmed seeing no fewer than 20 bodies being pulled out and taken to nearby hospital morgues.
Also, a senior medical official said the figure could be above 50 by the time the roof that fell on top of several persons is lifted by the Julius Berger cranes assisted by other medical emergency officials, who were still battling to rescue those trapped under the weight of the building at the time of this report.
The Fire Service and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) officials had hectic time controlling traffic at the scene.
The Commissioner for Works, Mr Ephraim Inyang-eyen, defied the light rain to control the traffic and directed the Julius Berger crane into the church compound for rescue operation.
An engineer, who spoke to Sunday Tribune, blamed the incident on what he described as “poor attention paid to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before erecting such massive structure in swampy environment that is heavily prone to erosion.
“You don’t site such heavy structure on such weak and erosion-prone environment,” the engineer, who craved anonymity explained.
Atiku mourns victims
Former Vice-President and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar, has expressed sadness at the Uyo tragedy.
In a press statement issued by his Media Office on Saturday, Atiku, who is in Maiduguri on a private visit, and to Yola to commiserate with the Adamawa State government over the multiple bomb blasts in Madagali on Friday, describes the incident as ‘’horrendous and fearful’’, and a great test of faith given that the accident took place when the church building was packed full of worshipers.
The press statement also reads in part: “The Turakin Adamawa laments that many worshippers were caught in the confusion caused by falling blocks and collapsing roof and urges the congregation to be strengthened and comforted by God.
The former Vice President implores relevant agencies and all men and women of goodwill to do all that is necessary in providing medical care to the survivors and counselling to families of the deceased.”