There was pandemonium in Adagbrasa-Ugolo community, in the Okpe Local Government Area of Delta State on Sunday after a church, St. Paul Catholic Church, collapsed.
While an 11-year-old boy was confirmed dead, no fewer than 15 others reportedly sustained varying degrees of injury.
Our correspondent, who visited the scene of the incident, gathered that the walls of the 100-year-old church started falling while parishioners were waiting for the priest to commence mass around 7am.
The deceased, identified as Jeffrey Jackson, who had successfully escaped from the church hall, was later trapped while reportedly fleeing to a safer place.
The injured, among which were octogenarians, were said to have been rushed to the Orerokpe General Hospital and another private hospital in the headquarters of the council.
They were all said to be in good condition when our correspondent visited both hospitals with the state Commissioner for Works, Chief James Augoye, who led a government delegation to the scene of the collapse on Sunday.
A witness and vice chairman of the church, Mr Daniel Agiri, said the incident occurred after the foundation of a new structure to expand the church gave way.
Agiri noted that worshippers had concluded rosary and morning prayers before the incident happened, adding that over 100 persons were inside the church at the time.
He said, “We were about to commence mass when we noticed a crack on the wall of the building from the altar. The incident happened rapidly. We are happy that the seminarian, who was to conduct mass, had not started. The moment the building started falling, everyone ran to safety. We lost one person and 15 persons got injured.
“We have recovered the deceased’s body from the rubble. Jeffery was a primary four pupil. My son’s leg was also broken. Some of the injured persons are in their 80s. A doctor told us that they were in stable condition.”
Agiri pleaded with the state government and the Warri Catholic Diocese to erect a new building for them to worship, adding that they were planning for the centenary celebration of the church when tragedy struck.
Augoye, who said he was representing the state Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, told PUNCH Metro after paying a condolence visit to the father of the deceased that the state government would investigate the cause of the incident.
The commissioner, after making a cash donation at the Orerokpe General Hospital, assured the victims that the government would also settle their medical bills.
He directed the hospital management to give prompt treatment to the injured.
The state governor, Okowa, while reacting to the building collapse in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Charles Aniagwu, described the incident as “sad and unfortunate.”
He said, “The church is a 100-year-old building and, in an attempt to rebuild and expand the church, the old church building collapsed as a result of heavily soaked water occasioned by the weight of worshippers who leaned against the walls while the early morning mass was on.
“While we pledge to pay the cost of treatment of the injured, people must ensure they seek necessary approvals before construction of buildings, particularly public structures, to avoid incidents like this.
“On behalf of the government and people of Delta State, I commiserate with the family of the deceased; the injured; the Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly; the Chairman of the Okpe Local Government Area, Chief Julius Scott; the Orodje of Okpe, HRM Orhue 1, Major Gen. Felix Mujakperuo (retd.); and the entire Ugolo community in Okpe Kingdom, on the unfortunate incident.
“It is our prayer that the soul of the deceased will rest in peace, and that the injured will experience quick recovery. Our thoughts and prayers will continue to be with the people of Ugolo in Okpe Kingdom over this tragedy.”
The state Commissioner of Police, Muhammad Mustafa, said the dead and the injured had been evacuated from the scene of the incident.