WARRI, Nigeria — Mortuaries on Sunday overflowed with the bodies of the at least 160 people killed in the collapse of a southern Nigeria church building whose construction, worshipers said, had been rushed.
Hundreds were inside Reigners Bible Church International in the city of Uyo on Saturday for the episcopal ordination of founder Akan Weeks when the metal girders fell and the corrugated iron roof caved in.
Screaming survivors streamed out amid cries from the injured inside.
“There were trapped bodies, parts of bodies, blood all over the place, and people’s handbags and shoes scattered,” said computer analyst Ukeme Eyibio.
Among the survivors were Weeks and Udom Emmanuel, the governor of Akwa Ibom state, which contains Uyo.
Eyibio had parked his car outside the complex to make a phone call when he heard a deafening crash and saw the church had disappeared.
He and three others dragged 10 injured people from an overflow area for worshipers just outside the collapsed church. They did not enter the main structure because a construction worker warned that it was not safe.
The worker called his boss at a nearby construction company, which sent a crane to lift debris off bodies.
While waiting for the crane, Eyibio helped a man whose legs were trapped under a girder.
“I rushed to my car, got out the tire jack and used that to get the beam off his legs,” the 27-year-old said.
Many of the dead were taken to private mortuaries scattered across the city, youth leader Edikan Peters said. Some people took the bodies of relatives to their homes because of the overcrowding.
Peters said he counted 90 bodies removed from the church before he was told to stop his tally Saturday night. Journalists also said church officials sought to prevent them from documenting the tragedy, trying to seize cameras and forcing some to leave the area.
The church was still under construction and workers had been rushing to finish it in time for Saturday’s ceremony, congregants said. The governor’s spokesman, Ekerete Udoh, said the state government will investigate whether any building standards were compromised.
Buildings collapse often in Nigeria because of endemic corruption that allows contractors to use substandard materials and bribe inspectors to ignore shoddy work or a lack of permits.
In 2014, 116 people died when a multistory guesthouse of the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. Most victims were visiting South African followers of the megachurch’s influential founder, T.B. Joshua.