A brand-new church — allegedly rushed to completion in southern Nigeria — collapsed, killing at least 200 worshippers inside, authorities said Sunday.
Witnesses described pandemonium and carnage left in the rubble of Reigners Bible Church International, which came down Saturday in the city of Uyo.
“There were trapped bodies, parts of bodies, blood all over the place and people’s handbags and shoes scattered,” said computer analyst Ukeme Eyibio, 27.
While rescuers, survivors and witnesses waited for a crane to arrive and lift rubble off victims, Eyibio said he and others were forced to improvise.
“I rushed to my car, got out the tire jack and used that to get the beam off [a victim’s] legs,” he said. “We managed to get him out, but we saw others dying all around us.”
Eyibio added: “I’m so traumatized I could not sleep last night for the horrors repeating themselves in my mind.”
The death roll has been inching north since Saturday night, with the tragic number now up to 200, according to UPI and Turkish Anadolu Agency.
“Many victims are in private hospitals and mortuaries scattered all over Uyo,” said Etete Peters, chief medical director at the government hospital in Uyo.
“We can’t really tell how many people have died so far. We have over 200 people in the mortuaries here.”
Local hospitals and morgues were overwhelmed by the mass casualties and dead. “At Uyo teaching hospital where I am now, I could see over a hundred corpses, many are heaped on top of each other on the floor,” said photojournalist Ini Samuel. “Eyewitnesses also said yesterday corpses were packed in four each bag.”
Reigners Bible Church congregants were about to celebrate the consecration of founder Akan Weeks as its bishop on Saturday when metal girders gave way and the roof collapsed on them, witnesses said.
“It happened all at once,” Aniekeme Finbarr, a spokesman for Akwa Ibom Gov. Udom Emmanuel, told CNN.
“The faithful had been singing and dancing. It sounded like rain and the roof caved in and it all happened very quickly.”
Survivor Eno Etim said she was knocked unconscious when a heavy rod fell on her.
“That was all I remembered. I don’t know how I got to this hospital,” Etim told the Vanguard newspaper of southwestern Nigeria.
“I still feel pain in my back and all over my body. But I am grateful to God because I am not better than those that passed away.”
The new church had been under construction until recently and workers had been rushing to finish it in time for the event, congregants said.
State authorities will closely examine construction work to see if any building standards were compromised, said Ekerete Udohm, another rep for Gov. Emmanuel.
The governor and Weeks were both at the ceremony but survived the catastrophe. Eyibio was just outside the church making a phone call when the roof gave out.
Officials said they feared the death toll could rise. “I saw more than 100 dead bodies brought out on loaders,” said neighborhood resident Gary Ubong, who rushed to the church after hearing the crash. “I also went to two hospitals and saw heaps of dead bodies difficult to count.”
Emmanuel declared a two-day period of mourning to be observed Sunday and Monday with all flags across the state lowered to half-staff.
“We have never had such a shocking incident in the history of our dear state,” Emmanuel wrote on his Facebook page.
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