UYO, Nigeria, Dec. 11 (UPI) — A church under construction on Nigeria’s southern coast collapsed during services, killing at least 200 people, a hospital official said.
Etete Peters, chief medical director at the government hospital in Uyo, confirmed the death toll late Saturday from the collapse earlier in the day at Reigners Bible Ministry in the capital of Akwa Ibom state, the Anadolu Agency reported.
“Many victims are in private hospitals and mortuaries scattered all over Uyo; we can’t really tell how many people have died so far. We have over 200 people in the mortuaries here,” he said.
Also Saturday, Albom police commissioner Murtala Mani announced 27 deaths and 37 injures, according to state-run Nigerian News Agency.
“The death toll being given by rescuers could be misleading as people presumed dead from the collapse may have just lost consciousness only to recover at the hospital,” a police representative for Akwa Ibom, Cordelia Nwanwe, told CNN.
The church was packed with worshipers to consecrate the church pastor’s becoming a bishop when the roof collapse a few minutes after services began.
“It happened all at once. The faithful had been singing and dancing. It sounded like rain and the roof caved in and it all happened very quickly,” Aniekeme Finbarr, a media liaison for Gov. Udom Emmanuel of the state of Akwa Ibom, said.
Emmanuel was in the church when metal girders crashed onto worshipers and the corrugated iron roof caved in. He wasn’t injured.
“We have never had such a shocking incident in the history of our dear state,” Emmanuel said on his Facebook page.
He said he personally supervised rescue operations and evacuation of the injured to hospitals.
Emmanuel has ordered a “high-powered panel of inquiry to ascertain the immediate and remote causes leading to the collapse of the building with a view to forestalling the recurrence of such [an] incident and bring to book persons found to have compromised professional standards in the construction of the building.
Emmanuel, who declared Sunday and Monday as days of mourning, also ordered the immediate arrest of the contractor handling the building project.
Construction work had been going on at the church.
“It was a very terrible thing to watch,” said Inameti Effiong Udofia, a student who rushed to the scene right after the collapse, told CNN. “The whole building went down, and a lot of souls were lost.”
Udofia saw and heard “survivors screaming” and people running around. Some survivors’ legs were badly cut, he said.
In September 2014, 115 people were killed in Lagos in the collapse of a church belonging to the famous televangelist TB Joshua.