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160 killed as crowded church collapses in Nigeria

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.

AP

Screaming survivors streamed out and there were cries from injured victims when computer analyst Ukeme Eyibio rushed to the scene.

"There were trapped bodies, parts of bodies, blood all over the place and people's handbags and shoes scattered," Mr Eyibio said.

He had parked his car outside the complex to make a phone call, heard a deafening explosion he thought was a bomb, only to see that the church had disappeared, he said

Eyibio and three others managed to drag 10 wounded people from an overflow area for worshippers just outside the collapsed church, but they did not enter the main structure because a construction worker among them warned of the danger of a further collapse. The worker called his boss at the construction company, who sent a crane to help lift debris off bodies.

While they waited for the crane, Eyibio tried to help a man whose legs were trapped under a steel girder. "I rushed to my car, got out the tyre jack and used that to get the beam off his legs," he said.

"We managed to get him out but we saw others dying all around us," Eyibio, 27, said. "I'm so traumatised I could not sleep last night for the horrors repeating themselves in my mind."

AP

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