From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Survivors of Tuesday’s building collapse in Okpanam, Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta State have continued to recount how they escape the tragedy that claimed four lives and left 10 others severely injured.
Officially, 18 persons were said to have been rescued from the debris of the ruined structure but some eyewitnesses said they counted 24 victims who were ferried to hospitals by government authorities.
The building which housed a church, Salvation Ministries, was under going reconstruction when it caved in during the Church’s evening service on Tuesday. About 150 persons including children were said to be at the service.
A survivor of the incident, Mrs. Chidinma Ugochukwu, said they were about to receive Holy Communion when they suddenly heard a great noise and everybody was trapped.
Her words: “After the preaching by the man of God and it was time for Holy Communion, the man of God, Pastor David told us that it was not for everybody but for the people with critical condition, those with sicknesses like diabetes, HIV and cancer.
“We were there listening. Then all of a sudden, we discovered that there was a great noise not allowing anybody to escape. It was like a magic, what we saw was that everybody was just going down.
“I was carrying my small baby on my back; the senior one was in the children’s department.
“After the incident, so many people came to rescue us. I was there trying to bring this child out of my back. One man said I should give him the baby which I did and I started looking for the senior brother and I later saw him alive.
“So, many people were affected, we just blessed God. Our bags, phones, even our foot wears went down just like that but we are alive.
“So many people survived it and I thank God for the government of Delta State because immediately it happened, all of them came: fire service, ambulance, everywhere was filled as they tried to rescue victims.
“They were sending people to Federal Medical Centre (FMC), we just thank God.
“I didn’t witness anybody died but I saw one lady lifeless, but can’t confirm if she was really died because I am not a doctor.”
Ugochukwu said she and her seven-month old and three-year children survived the incident.
Mrs. Rachael Odum, who also survived alongside her three children aged nine, seven and four, corroborated Ugochukwu, saying that the service was at the point of receiving Holy Communion when the tragedy struck.
“I was here yesterday (Tuesday), my full family was trapped inside. I came back here today (Wednesday) to check on our members. My family is safe. I have three children aged nine, seven and four.
“This is where Salvation Ministry used to worship, the top floor, and this building is not for the church, the church rented it.
“As at yesterday when it occurred, it was close to the ending of the service, we were about taking holy communion when this thing trapped us there.
“At the point when the building was collapsing, nobody tried to run because everybody was just sinking. I knew that I was sinking, I was only shouting, ‘Lord, save me, save my children’. Everybody was just shouting, ‘Lord save us.’
“Suddenly, the thing stopped that moment, everybody started rushing out, and in a situation like that, there will be stampede. I managed to rescue all my children with minor injuries.
“Majority of the people in the building came out alive, good Samaritans rushed in with blood stains to save others. As at yesterday (Tuesday) when I left, I did not hear whether anybody died. I Know they brought ambulance to take people to the hospital,” Odum narrated.
Although, Ifeoma Obiesie is also a member of the church, she said she had barely entered the hall when the incident occurred.
Obiesie told our correspondent at the state Specialist Hospital where some of the injured victims were rushed to, that she hurriedly came from Benin in desperate bid to be part of the Tuesday’s service.
“I came back from Benin that very day and even on the way I was disturbing the driver to move fast because I wanted to be part of the service.
“But surprisingly to me as I came into the church, the noise I heard, I ran out because I was just entering. That was my saving grace, and I thank God for my life, not that I am happy for what happened to my brothers and sisters,” she said.
Obiesie said she was too shocked by the incident and as a result, she could not join in the rescue operation.
“I could not join in the rescue operation because I was gripped by fear, I was confused. So I just went to a place and sat down. I was not myself, it was a sudden shock,” she added.
But not so for Onyekachuku Precious, a commercial tricycle operator, who abandoned his job to save lives, and in the process, got some bruises in his face.
Precious stated that he joined others to rescue seven victims including three children and four adults.
“Yesterday (Tuesday) when I was driving down, I saw the collapsed building, I have to park my tricycle to render assistance.
“We brought some little children and other matured people. In the process of rescue, we broke the fence leading to the other street, there was one lady who was too big for us to carry, and the entrance was blocked so we have to break the fence so that we can pass her to the clinic up there.
“It was in the process, I got some bruises on my face. It was a black day. Those we rescued were breathing, they were just crying, some were holding their hands and legs.
“I was carrying one passenger and she was supposed to pay me N50.00 for the service. Even the passenger was here because you cannot go when you see something like this.
“It took about 20 to 30 minutes to bring out one victim. I was part of the rescue of three children and four adults. The fat woman was not breathing well, so we were trying to rescucitate her but I had to leave because the tricycle I am driving does not belong to me, I have to return it,” he explained.
A father of two victims, Mr. Paul Wessey, told Daily Sun at the hospital that his children were responding to treatment.
Wessey said he was not part of the church service as he was still in the office, adding that immediately he got the distressed call, he raced to various hospitals in search of his children.
His words: “Two of my sons and two of sister in-law’s sons were affected. I was not in church but I was in the office. It was a terrible experience, it is not something to even talk about. I thank God that it is just injury and with time, it going to heal.
“We have done the x-ray for this 4-year old and we are taking him to the theatre for them to clean the injury.
“I went to FMC, came to this place when they called me about the incident, I couldn’t find them. I went back to the place, one of the rescue officers told me that they took some patients to Group Medicals, and I went and saw them. The place was not okay, they were not administering the expected treatment so I have to bring him here this morning.”
Meanwhile, the state government said a panel of enquiry has been set to investigate the immediate and remote cause of the building collapse.
The state deputy governor, Kingsley Otuaro, stated this after inspecting the site of the collapsed building as well as visiting the injured patients.
Otuaro, who confirmed that four lives were lost to the incident, said it could have be worse if not for the prompt and coordinated response of government agencies in emergency management.
Otuaro, a lawyer, said he was not competent to speak on the cause of the collapse “but as a government, we have consummated the setting up of a panel of enquiry to look into the immediate and remote cause of the incident. The panel has been constituted already, and the report would be made public. All those culpable would be made to face the law.”
He said the report from the medical personnel was heartwarming and encouraging as far as the injured victims were concerned, adding that the state government would not abandon them.
But a civil engineer, Nwodo Onyeamechi, blamed the church for remaining in the apartment when reconstruction work was on going, noting that from his observation, the main structural reinforcement work that guide the load had been removed
“When those are thing are tampered with, automatically the building would be deformed. I don’t know the design initially whether for commercial or residential.
“The main load was tampered with, and that led to the collapsing of the building. Ordinarily, a floor reinforcement work like this design is supposed not to collapse unless the columns transmit the load.
“There is no where in the world I have seen a building falling like an Iroko tree. Therefore, there is a defect in design or constructive error.
“Government should investigate this incident. It was wrong for the church to be using the building while construction is going on,” Onyeamechi insisted.
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