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Nigerian church 'stopped rescuers'

Church officials stopped members of a rescue team pulling victims from the site of a six-storey building collapse in Nigeria, an emergency agency says.

Most victims were South African, according to the South African government, which says at least 67 South Africans died and 17 appear to be missing in the rubble of the church hostel building that collapsed in Lagos last week.

Ibrahim Farinloye, spokesman for the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency said the building at TV evangelist TB Joshua's Synagogue, Church of All Nations, collapsed at 12.44pm last Friday but rescuers did not get full access until after 5pm on Sunday.

He said that when rescue workers arrived on the scene they were told at least three people were trapped nearby. He said the rescue team saved them but church officials prevented them from getting further access.

"Some of us were even attacked (by church members). We wanted to ask the military to deploy to force access for us, but there were many foreigners at the church and we did not want to create an international incident," Mr Farinloye said.

Church members were also hostile to journalists and smashed at least one television camera.

At a televised service on Sunday, TB Joshua urged his congregation not to be hostile to rescue workers and the media. He said: "Hard times may test me, they cannot destroy me. To withstand hard times, stand with Christ."

A total of 80 bodies were recovered and 131 survivors were found by the time the rescue operation ended.

Mr Farinloye said rescue workers lost the two or three critical hours immediately after a disaster when most lives are saved.

He said they only were allowed to carry out full rescue operations after Lagos state governor Babatunde Fashola met with Joshua at the disaster site on Sunday.

According to a state government statement, Mr Fashola told him: "What you need to understand now is that this place is now an accident scene, and so all your staff must leave this place. We need to take control of this place and let people who are trained to do this job do so."

South Africa flew a team into Lagos to help identify victims and console and help survivors.

A South African foreign affairs spokesman said the process of identifying victims will be lengthy and might involve getting fingerprints and DNA from family members.

"I think there will have to be a further investigation into what happened and how the church responded, but for now our focus is on helping families identify bodies and see that the injured are attended to," he said.

The church has published a denial on Facebook, saying: "It is very sad that inaccurate reports are coming from some quarters that we are not cooperating with the rescue teams and other agencies."

It added: "Good Christians are good citizens."

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