Tears flow on Akwa Ibom’s day of doom
• Govt declares two days of mourning
• Police confirm 27 dead, 37 injured
• Uyo mortuaries overflowing with 160 bodies, says hospital director
With about 20 days to the New Year, the ugliest tragedy from a single event in 2016 occurred at the weekend, when dome of the Reigners Bible Church International, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, crashed during church service and killed scores of worshippers, leaving many others wounded.
This is coming over two years after a guesthouse collapsed at the Synagogue Church of All Nations, (SCOAN), Ikotun in Lagos State, which killed 114 worshippers, mostly foreigners.
The Akwa Ibom State government in its immediate reaction declared Sunday and Monday as days of mourning to honour the victims that died on Saturday. One of the survivors was the state governor, Udom Emmanuel, who was the special guest of honour at the special service.
The incident occurred during a special service: “Bishopric Enthronement”, to mark the ordination of its resident pastor, Apostle Akan Weeks. The church was still under construction and workers had been rushing to finish it in time for the ceremony to ordain the founder, Weeks, as a bishop.
While the governor escaped unhurt, luck, however, ran against one of his aides, Ernest Inem, he died in the process. Also the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Ekerete Udoh, had a broken leg while trying to escape.
Sympathisers yesterday thronged the scene of the collapsed church building to catch a glimpse of the wreckage. There was, however, a heavy security presence at the church gate, which has been cordoned off and is under lock, to prevent possible uprising from aggrieved persons, who lost loved ones.
Though the actual number of casualties is yet to be confirmed, the Akwa Ibom State Police Command has said 27 people lost their lives in the building collapse. According to the state’s Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Cordelia Nwawe, “27 people have been confirmed dead and 37 persons who sustained injuries are receiving treatment in designated hospitals.”
While residents believe that the actual number of the casualties may be more, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) chairman in the state, Dr. Aniekeme Uwah, in a statement said reports from the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital (UUTH) indicated that 21 people were brought in dead, while two out of the 23 that were undergoing treatment died due mainly to severe bleeding.
However, a hospital director has said 160 people were killed in the incident. Etete Peters of the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital said mortuaries are overflowing and the final death toll likely will be much higher. He said many other victims were in private mortuaries scattered all over the city of Uyo.
The victims evacuated from the collapsed church along Uyo village road near Government House, were receiving treatment at the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, St Luke’s Hospital, Ibom Specialist Hospital and Lifecare Hospital.
A lecturer in the Department of Economics, University of Uyo, Dr. Chris Ekong, told newsmen that his brother, Dr. Cyril Ekong, died in the incident.
Many of the Uyo City Polytechnic students, who worshipped at the church, were affected. Some of them died instantly while others were rushed to the hospital.
Identities of some of the victims had begun to emerge; one of them is Queen Ekong. Her friend and one of the survivors, Nonye Richy, confirmed this in a Facebook post, with torrents of condolence messages pouring in from devastated friends and family members.
“Yes. It’s true that I was in the church when it fell. It’s true that the building fell on me, but I don’t know how I got out alive. I thought it was a joke when I came out alive, until I saw the girl, who sat beside me split into two by the rod.
“My friend, Peace Udoh, who I signalled to get me a copy of the programme, and Queen Ekong, who I saw there too, were confirmed dead. I am here to say ‘thank you’ to the only God that saved my life. Many who were better than me lost their lives yesterday.
“I don’t know how God did it. I don’t know why he did it. But what I know is that God made a way for me to be alive. Words cannot express how grateful I am to God, first and then to you all for the calls, text, posts, and prayers. I also thank God for my friend, Etieno Shugaboo Samuel. We came out alive. I am just speechless,” Richy wrote.
Miss Udoh, until her death, was a Linguistics student at the University of Uyo. She was serving as an usher at the church. According to an eyewitness account, the incident occurred immediately after offertory collection, while the ordination of Apostle Weeks as Bishop was the next item on the programme.
“We heard a strange and loud sound, then the building started falling. Governor Udom would have been no more, but for one of his aides who immediately pushed him out of the building. Unfortunately, the aide was killed by the fast descending roof after he pushed the governor who fell outside, away from danger.”