How collapsed church building claimed 11-year-old boy, injured 11

…my son died while I was rescuing others –Dad

An 11-year-old boy, Jeffrey Enukanerhirhe, lost his life when the St. Paul Catholic Church building, Ugolo-Adagbrasa in Okpe Local Government Area of Delta State caved in during the early morning mass. His father, Hon. Jackson Enukanerhirhe, said Jeffrey died under the rubble while he was busy rescuing others. He said: “When it happened, I joined other members of the church in rescuing people who were trapped unknown to me that my son was trapped. It is a sad thing. “I was inside the church when it happened. I was at the back and my son was playing guitar when it happened. It happened about 7a.m.” Enukanerhire is a former minority leader of Okpe Local Government Area.

The boy was later buried on the church premises. As men of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) were not easily available, church workers, youths and public-spirited individuals helped to rescue victims. The Vice-Chairman of the community, Daniel Egiwie, who survived the incident, said he did not know that the deceased was still trapped under the rubble while they were busy rescuing others. Another survivor, Daniel Oghenekevwe Charles, said: “We went to the house of God. We cannot question God.

I thank God I survived it.” It was learnt the church, which is preparing for its centenary celebration, was erecting a new structure, which collapsed. Another survivor, Madam Cecilia Itive, said the church building did not give any notice but collapsed suddenly on worshippers. Itive recounted how the worshippers were in the church for the usual 6a.m. mass with their children, praying and dancing when sudden crack threw the entire congregation into confusion, and within a few seconds, the diagonal part of the church fell. She said cries of agony came from those trapped under the collapsed building while parents started frantic search for their children. The woman said those injured included babies, children of school ages, nursing mothers and their husbands. Also, Mr. Jude Obovrewe said a nine-inch block hit his forehead.

He, however, thanked God that the block did not send him to his early grave. The victim said he was not part of those who leaned on the collapsed wall, but got injured where he seated when a block landed on his head. Obovrewe said a plank hit an old man, who was sitting beside him during the church service, on the shoulder.

He said: “I thought I was going to die because I was in trance for hours. The impact of the block that fell on my head broke down my nerves and triggered a heavy headache in me. I was in coma until I was resuscitated at the hospital. “I thank God for my wife and children for not making her a widow and orphans. I thank God most especially that many children were not around the collapsed wall.” Obovrewe also thanked Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for taking up the responsibility of off-setting their hospital bills. Another survivor, who identified himself simply as Pa Amos, a church warder, said the disaster immediately threw the entire community into mourning as other churches ended their services abruptly.

He said sadness enveloped the palace of the Orodje of Okie, HRM Orhue 1, Major Gen. Felix Mujakperuo (rtd.), as the monarch bemoaned the disaster. Meanwhile, Okowa has condoled with the family of the deceased. The governor also promised to offset the medical bills of the injured victims. Okowa spoke through the Commissioner for Special Duties, Mr. Ernest Ogwezzy, who visited the father of the deceased as well as the scene of collapsed church building The governor described the incident as “sad” just as he sympathised with the church, the immediate family of the deceased as well as the people of Adagbrassa-Ugolo community.

The National Coordinator of the Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice, Comrade Sheriff Mulade, said it was a black Sunday just as he condoled with the St. Paul’s Catholic Church over the ugly incident. It was learnt that the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, who hails from the area, has expressed shock over the tragedy. Okowa directed that adequate medical attention must be given to the survivors.

The Commissioner for Works, Chief James Augoye, who was also there, said only one person died, while 11 others were rushed to the hospital. According to him, seven people have been treated and discharged while the remaining four were still undergoing treatment but were in stable conditions. He said: “While we pledge to pay the cost of treatment for the injured, people must ensure they seek necessary approvals before construction of buildings particularly public structures to avoid incidents such as this.” In a statement, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor (CPS), Mr. Charles Aniagwu, quoted Augoye as saying that “the church is a 100 years’ old church 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.”

The President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, commiserated with the Delta State government and the Catholic Church in Nigeria over the collapse of the church building. Also, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has consoled with the church and family of the deceased. In a statement, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, noted that it was traumatic that such disaster occurred at a worship place. He said: “Indeed, our hearts and prayers go out to the bereaved, the wounded, all members of St. Paul’s Ugolo and the Catholic Church at large, over this sad event, even as we urge the parishioners to be strong and not allow the incident to wane their faith and confidence in God.”

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