160 killed in Nigeria church collapse; mortuaries overflowing, toll to go up

Local police say the death toll figures could be inaccurate.

160 killed in Nigeria church collapse; mortuaries overflowing, toll to go up
A woman seeking her loved ones is seen at the venue of the collapsed church building in Uyo, Nigeria December 11, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

Death toll in the church collapse in Nigeria's Uyo has risen to 160 and the number is likely to rise. While cranes are still at work trying to lift the collapsed metal girders and corrugated iron sheets under which hundreds of people were trapped, the mortuaries in the city are overflowing with the dead bodies.

The roof of the under construction building came crashing down on worshippers on Saturday as they were attending the ordination of a bishop.

Akan Weeks, the founder of the Reigners Bible Church International who was to be ordained as bishop at the ceremony, escaped unhurt. Akwa Ibom state Governor Udom Emmanuel, another worshipper present in the church when the roof collapsed, also escaped without being injured.

The Governor's office said an inquiry will be conducted to assess if building standards were compromised. Meanwhile, local reports said the church authorities were preventing media teams from taking pictures of the devastation and that they even tried to seize cameras.

"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," a media officer of the governor said, CNN reported.

There were also reports that the church was overcrowded. "There were trapped bodies, parts of bodies, blood all over the place and people's handbags and shoes scattered," an eye witness told CBC News.

People are taking dead bodies back home as all mortuaries are overcrowded and some do not have refrigeration. While a local hospital director said the death toll is likely to go up further, local police said the numbers could be inaccurate as people who were thought to be dead were later found merely unconscious.

President Muhammadu Buhari expressed his condolences to the victims' families. "The Governor and the People of Akwa Ibom State, the deep sorrow of his family, the government and the entire people of Nigeria over the many deaths and injury recorded following the incident," presidential spokesman Garba Shehu in a statement.

Incidents of building collapse are common in Nigeria as corrupt officials allow substandard construction.