The South African Government has sent a team of search and rescue and body identification experts to Nigeria to assist in the search for South African victims of the church building collapse in Lagos.
A six-storey building owned by the Synagogue Church of All Nations had collapsed on Friday, trapping a large number of people.
As of Wednesday, no fewer than 131 victims had been rescued, while the National Emergency Management Agency announced that the death toll had risen to 80.
The South African Government had said on Tuesday that five different South African church tour groups, comprising about 300 people, were staying in the guest house when it collapsed.
An online news portal, IOL reported on Wednesday that many South Africans remain unaccounted for.
The South Africa High Commissioner to Nigeria, Lulu Mnguni, said it was difficult to identify the remains of South African victims.
Mnguni said the embassy had deployed some of its officials in the scene of the six- storey building that collapsed.
The High Commissioner, who said he was in Lagos to monitor the rescue efforts, told one of our correspondents on the telephone on Wednesday that many South African citizens were unaccounted for.
Mnguni said, “I have dispatched some officials to the scene to monitor and identify some of our citizens that were involved and I am waiting for their report, but you know that rescue efforts are ongoing, so we don’t know when the report would come in. We can’t give a final figure on casualty for now.”
He stated that 20 South Africans who were treated for varying degrees of injuries had been discharged, while some of them had gone back to South Africa.
He explained that the families of those that had yet to be accounted for are preparing to visit Nigeria where they would be taken to the morgue to identify their relations.
He said, “The church gave us a list of some of those affected by the collapse, but there were some gaps and so we got back to them and they have today (Wednesday) filled in the gaps.
“The families of those that were affected in the collapse are also making arrangements to come to Nigeria and they would be taken to the morgue to identify their relations.”
However, authorities at SCOAN declined to state the number of South Africans present when the building collapsed.
Church officials on Wednesday promised to make a statement later in the day, but had yet to do so as of the time of filing this report.
But a member of the church, who spoke to PUNCH Metro on condition of anonymity, said the authorities of the church were in possession of the identities of the people that were in the building before it collapsed.
She said, “The building that collapsed used to be a guest house. Apart from being expensive, it is usually reserved for foreigners. The church takes proper documentation of its foreign visitors. They even go as far as collecting their passports upon arrival and they are given tags. So the church has the records of the people that were in the building before it collapsed.”
Meanwhile, some of the survivors have landed at OR Tambo International Airport just after 5am on Wednesday, according to a South African news website, www.ewn.co.za.
Clad in purple T-shirts with the church slogan, one of the passengers on the early morning flight said he felt blessed to be able to come home after the tragedy.
Also, NEMA said apart from the woman that was rescued on Tuesday morning, no other person has been rescued alive.
NEMA spokesman, Ibrahim Farinloye, said the death toll had risen to 80, adding that efforts were still ongoing to recover as many bodies as possible.
He stated that the agency did not know the number of the South Africans present at the time the building collapsed.
Farinloye said, “We don’t have the details or identities of the victims. The church has not provided us with that. Our major focus now is on the emergency phase. After that, we will begin the process of identification and investigation.”
Lagos will not seal Synagogue yet ─ Commissioner
The Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Olutoyin Ayinde, says there was no plan by the government to take over the site of the collapsed building owned by SCOAN.
The commissioner, who reiterated the position of the ministry that the six-floor building did not have building approval, said the state was still conducting a thorough investigation to determine the cause of the collapse.
Ayinde said, “The government does not arbitrarily take over property when investigation is still ongoing. The government is conducting a preliminary investigation into the causes of the collapse and if there is any violation of relevant planning law, residents are assured that government would take appropriate action.
“A team of engineers from the ministry and other state government agencies have taken samples from the scene for detailed analysis and testing to ascertain the structural integrity of the building.”
On the airplane that allegedly flew low over the building 50 minutes before the collapse, Ayinde said the government had submitted the video clips, as provided by the Church, to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority for professional comment.
SCOAN building documents buried under debris – LASBCA
The documents of the collapsed building belonging to the church are buried under debris of the collapse, Lagos State Government has said.
General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency, Mrs. Abimbola Animashaun, on Wednesday, added that investigations were still ongoing despite the inability of the church to provide approval documents.
She said, “The documents, according to the church, are buried inside the building, so we are looking at our records to see if there was an approval.
“If they had the number of the approval document, then we can trace it. We are also trying to retrieve the document here since they said it is buried under the debris.”
Jonathan’s wife commiserates
Presedent Goodluck Jonathan’s wife, Patience, has commiserated with families of the victims of the collapsed building at the Synagogue Church.
Spokesman for President’s wife, Ayo Adewuyi, in a statement on Wednesday said she was moved by the news that majority of those who died were women and children.
She expressed sadness over the incident and offered her condolences to the families of the victims and the General Overseer of the church, Pastor T.B. Joshua.
“As the mother of the nation, my thoughts are with you and the entire