President Jacob Zuma of South Africa announced, Tuesday, that 67 of his countrymen perished in the collapsed building at The Synagogue church in Lagos.
The collapsed building inside the church’s premises was a five-storey building which initially was two-storey and the church decided to add three additional floors on it.
“I am greatly saddened to announce that 67 South Africans died and scores of others sustained injuries, after a building at the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed on Friday, 12 September 2014, in Lagos, in the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Mr. Zuma said in a statement.
Mr. Zuma’s casualty figures, however, differed markedly from that of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, Nigeria’s emergency rescue unit which had been on the scene since the day of the incident.
According to NEMA, total death toll as at Tuesday evening totalled 63 deaths and 131 people rescued with “more likely to be recovered.”
Rescue workers on Monday deployed three police sniffer dogs at the accident scene to assist in the search of trapped bodies.
It is unclear how the South Africans arrived at their casualty figures.
Mr. Zuma described the incident as a difficult time for South Africa.
“Not in the recent history of our country have we had this large number of our people die in one incident outside the country,” Mr. Zuma said.
“Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues that have lost their loved ones in this heart-breaking tragedy. The whole nation shares the pain of the mothers, fathers, daughters and sons who have lost their loved ones. We are all in grief.
“As we mourn this sudden and tragic death of our fellow compatriots, I have directed the relevant Government departments and entities to act with the utmost urgency to ensure that we facilitate the movement of relevant family members to Nigeria to identify the bodies of their loved ones and to ensure that we repatriate the remains as soon as possible under the circumstances,” he added.
When contacted, Ibrahim Farinloye, NEMA’s South-West spokesperson, declined to react to Mr. Zuma’s casualty figures.
“When we finish, everybody will know the total and who belongs where,” Mr. Farinloye said.