President Jacob Zuma of South Africa announced Tuesday that 67 of his compatriots were among scores of worshippers killed in the collapse of a hostel at the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in Lagos, Nigeria.
Zuma expressed his grief in a broadcast, saying he was “greatly saddened to announce that 67 South Africans died and scores of others sustained injuries.”
At least five South African church tour groups were at The Synagogue at the time of the collapse, according to South African officials.
“Not in the recent history of our country have we had this large number of our people die in one incident outside the country,” Zuma said in a statement to the nation.
“The whole nation shares the pain of the mothers, fathers, daughters and sons who have lost their loved ones. We are all in grief.”
Zuma said he had ordered government departments to help family members get to Nigeria to identify the bodies of their loved ones and repatriate the remains as soon as possible.
The tally of South African dead exceeds the previous toll of 62 thought dead in the disaster, a grim signal that the number of fatalities is likely to rise.
Rescuers say that the church’s hostel — which housed Nigerian and foreign followers of preacher and televangelist, T.B. Joshua — had been overburdened by the construction of additional floors.
Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency’s Ibrahim Farinloye said that much about the incident remained unclear.
The church known as The Synagogue “hid so much information from us, and (this is) the cause of frustration for rescuers,” he said.
Former Malawian head of state Joyce Banda, who has described Joshua as her “spiritual father,” said Tuesday she was “deeply shocked” by the accident
“It’s unfortunate that people lost their lives while praying,” she told AFP.
According to Joshua’s website, three of the church’s previous buildings were also destroyed.
“The roof of the first church was blown off by a storm, the second church was washed away by a flood while the third church also collapsed due to severe weather conditions.”
Rescue efforts that have so far saved the lives of 133 victims are scheduled to end on Wednesday.
“We have reached a critical stage now and more survivors are likely to be brought out of the rubble,” Farinloye said.