160 dead after church roof collapses on worshippers

The roof of a crowded church has collapsed on to worshippers in southern Nigeria, killing 160 people, a hospital director said.

Etete Peters of the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital said mortuaries were overflowing and the final death toll is likely to be much higher.

Youth leader Edikan Peters said many other victims are in private mortuaries scattered all over the city of Uyo.

Congregants said the Reigners Bible Church was still under construction when it was crowded with worshippers to ordain a bishop on Saturday. Metal girders crashed and the corrugated iron roof caved in.

The state government said it will investigate to see if building standards were compromised.

In 2014, 116 people died when a multi-storey building of the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed in Lagos. A coroner blamed structural faults.

Workers had been rushing to finish the church in time for the ceremony to ordain founder Akan Weeks as a bishop, congregants said.

Hundreds of people, including Akwa Ibom state governor Udom Emmanuel, were inside when metal girders crashed on to worshippers and the corrugated iron roof caved in, they said.

Emmanuel and Weeks, who preached that God will make his followers rich, escaped unhurt.

Many uncounted victims are in private mortuaries scattered across Uyo, 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, he said. He said he tallied 90 bodies before he was told to stop counting on Saturday night.

Journalists at the scene claim 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.

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