67 South Africans dead in Nigeria building
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — The death toll in the collapse of a building in Nigeria last week rose on Tuesday when the South African president said 67 South Africans died and dozens were injured in the accident.
Separately, a Nigerian official said 63 bodies had been recovered at the site of the disaster in the city of Lagos, but it was not immediately clear whether the bodies were those of the South Africans cited by President Jacob Zuma.
“This is a particularly difficult time for South Africa,” Zuma said in a statement. “Not in the recent history of our country have we had this large number of our people die in one incident outside the country.”
The fallen multistory building served as a shopping mall and guesthouse at the sprawling campus of televangelist T.B. Joshua’s Synagogue, Church of All Nations, on the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.
“We rescued a woman, alive, around 2 a.m. this morning,” said Ibrahim Farinloye of the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency. “We found her under the rubble. She walked away with only a little dislocation on her hand. She is very, very lucky.”
Rescue workers had recovered 63 bodies and rescued 131 survivors, Farinloye said. More than 1,000 rescuers were at the scene, he said of the pancaked building that was destroyed in clouds of dust and debris on Friday.
The church has attracted people from around the world to experience the evangelical Joshua’s preaching, prophecies and faith healing and to get his blessed water that some say has miraculous powers.
South Africa’s government said its diplomats were at the scene since at least five South African church tour groups were there at the time.
In Johannesburg, a man called into Talk Radio 702 to complain that a family member who had gone to the church was missing and that they were unable to get any information from the church or Nigerian government officials. South Africa has set up a hotline for concerned family members.
A woman who answered the telephone at the church would not give her name and said only: “Everything is under control. That is all you need to know.”
Joshua has tried to implicate Islamic extremists in the building collapse, publishing a video purporting to show a mysterious aircraft flying low over the building four times before the disaster. He told a televised service Sunday that his church has been targeted before by Nigeria’s homegrown Boko Haram extremist group.
However, Farinloye, the government official, said the building appears to have collapsed because of poor construction work. He said workers were trying to build two additional floors onto an existing four-story structure without reinforcing the foundations. Nigeria’s construction industry is bedeviled by corruption that sometimes leads contractors to take short cuts and use substandard products.
Faul reported from Johannesburg.