BENUE CHURCH COLLAPSE: PARISH PRIEST, VICTIMS RECOUNT EXPERIENCE
BY PETER DURU
MAKURDI - Adamgbe village in Vandeikya Local Government Area of Benue State is still in sombre mood following the Saturday's collapse of St. Roberts Catholic Church on Easter eve which claimed the lives of 22 worshippers, comprising 16 women and six children.
As inhabitants of the village continued to brood over the unfortunate incident, some of the survivors of the tragedy have recounted their ordeal stating why the death toll was high among children and women.
The collapsed church building at Adamgbe village in Vandeikya LGA
According to Philip Ierkwagh, Mathias Tyagber and Joseph Wuhe who were at the service when the church building caved in, the death toll was high among women and children because they were the first to occupy the front row in the church when the storm that pulled down the church chased worshippers from the open air service held outside the church.
According to Mathias Tyagber, 'many of the women died because they were occupying the front roll and many of them had their children lying on mats and that was the first point that collapsed.
'Many of the male members of the church took refuge in a nearby primary school while the storm raged. When the building came crashing down, many of the children and women were instantly crushed. The death toll could have been higher but for swift rescue effort most of the survivors.'
A female survivor, Mrs. Memshima Terngu, who is currently receiving treatment at St. Monica Hospital in Adikpo, said she and her 12-year-old son escaped being crushed by the collapsing structure through the mercy of God. She said they were rescued from the rubble by members of the church who mobilised and pulled many of the victims from the bricks and the collapsed roof.
Church built in 1963
In his account, the Parish Priest of the church, Rev. Father Cosmos Jooli who was still in shock said the aged church was built in 1963, stressing that its pillars were weak and not reinforced with iron rods.
He said: 'The age of the church building and the structural defects actually contributed to the sudden collapse,' adding that the weight of the church gave way and crushed the worshippers.
He said the bodies of the deceased had been deposited at the Vandeikya General Hospital while the injured are receiving treatment at the St. Elizabeth Maternity Health Centre Vandeika as some have been moved to St. Monica Hospital in Adikpo, Kwande Local Government Area.
LG chairman promises assistance
Chairman of the Local Government Council, Mr Benjamin Dogwo, who expressed shock and disbelief at the disaster said the prompt response of the council saved many lives.
Dogwo said the local government council would extend assistance to survivors and families that lost relations to the tragedy.
When Vanguard visited the scene of the tragedy, people were seen digging through the rubbles of the collapsed building in search of possible survivors.
Reacting to the unfortunate incident, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, Rt Rev Athanasius Usuuh, who prayed for the repose of the souls of the dead said the affected persons died in the service of their creator, the Almighty God.
Dep gov consoles affected families
Among the early callers at the site were the Deputy Governor of the state, Chief Steven Lawani, the Benue State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Christopher Katso and other top government functionaries in the state.
After conducting an on-the-spot-assessment of the scene, Lawani commiserated with families that lost their loved ones.
He also assured that the state government would off set the bills of those in hospitals just as he directed an immediate supply of relief materials to survivors.
Speaking on the incident, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), ASP Alaribe Ejike, who accompanied the Benue State Police Commissioner to the site said the police did not see any foul play in the tragedy and dismissed speculations that the incidence was caused by an attack as reported by some foreign media.