UYO, Nigeria (Reuters) - At least 100 people were killed by the collapse of a church in southeastern Nigeria, a resident and photojournalist who visited a morgue said on Sunday, but officials put the death toll at just 27.
“At Uyo teaching hospital where I am now I could see over a hundred corpses, many are heaped on top off each other on the floor,” said photojournalist Ini Samuel. “Eye witnesses also said yesterday corpses were packed in four each bag.”
Gary Ubong, a resident, said the church’s roof had collapsed on worshippers while a pastor was being consecrated as bishop in the presence of government officials.
“I saw more than 100 dead bodies brought out on loaders,” said Ubong, who said he had rushed to the scene after the accident. “I also went to two hospitals and saw heaps of dead bodies difficult to count.”
State police spokeswoman Cordelia Nwawe said 27 had been killed and 30 injured when the Reigners Bible church in Akwa Ibom state capital Uyo collapsed during a service on Saturday.
Etete Peters, Chief Medical Director of the University of Uyo teaching hospital, said 21 bodies had been delivered to his clinic and two of the injured admitted for treatment had died.
“Victims are in private hospitals and mortuaries scattered all over Uyo metropolis. We can’t really tell how many people have died so far,” he said. “We do not have space as people are still being brought in.”
State police commissioner Murtala Mani “debunked speculations that as many as 60 or 120 worshipers died in the incident,” state news agency NAN said. The state emergency agency NEMA said in a statement that six people had been killed and 115 injured.
Another Uyo resident, Akpan Eminem, said he had been told by hospital staff that 79 people had died in the accident.
State governor Udom Emmanuel, who escaped unhurt from the church service, ordered the arrest of the building contractor, state news agency NAN said.
Buildings collapses are frequent in the West African nation and often blamed by officials on lack of construction permits and the use of cheap materials amid widespread corruption.
Critics say Nigerian authorities tend to understate the death toll at such accidents or suicide bombings by the Boko Haram jihadist group in the north of the country.
Following a gas plant blast in southern Nigeria a year ago the presidency said “tens of people” had been killed while witnesses counted more than 100 bodies. Police had then just confirmed eight dead.
Reporting by Anamesere Igboeroteonwu, Ulf Laessing, Tife Owolabi, Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh; Editing by Ros Russell