Lagos Building Collapse: A Black Wednesday At Ita Faji
Activities in the busy and often crowded Ita Faji Street of Lagos Island were disrupted by tragedy on Wednesday morning when a three-storey building housing a school collapsed, trapping more than 100 persons, including pupils.
The building, located on the cramped street characterized by old buildings, went down around 9.45am when pupils of the school, which occupied the second floor were getting into the day’s activities proper and scores of residents were home.
Thousands of residents and many emergency workers descended on the scene and rescued many upon arrival, but some remain trapped and witnesses have given early death toll figures at eight to nine.
As of Wednesday evening, more than 24 victims, mostly children, had been rescued.
The already gloomy street turned a shade darker in the minutes that followed the collapse – with a mixture of shocked residents, screaming women highlighting the disaster.
Those who had first rushed to the scene battled against the rubble, clutching, pushing and shoving concrete and metal just to pull out those trapped.
Members of the Lagos State Emergency Management Authority, the Police, National Emergency Management Agency and other rescue workers who rushed to the scene had to contend with both crowd and rubble as they joined the desperate rescue effort that continued into the night.
As the news of the collapse spread, anxious parents, friends, and relatives made their way to the school to find their loved ones and children.
A Disaster waiting to happen
The building, located at the end of the street is over 20 years old and among its occupants is the nursery and primary school, which children within the neighborhood attend.
According to a resident in the neighborhood, the house was a death trap, as many people who had lived there, never stayed for long, after several complaints about its structural integrity.
“A few days ago, I went to deliver a message for a brother who runs a betting shop a few streets away. As I climbed the staircase, my heart was skipping because it felt like the building was falling apart. It has a lot of elderly people, asides the school on the second floor,” the resident who gave her name as Folake, said, bursting into tears.
Trapped, no word!
As rescue efforts continued, many parents could be heard wailing, praying and begging for help.
One of them was a woman called Fatima.
“Please come and help me, my aunt’s son is still in the building,” she wailed, attracting sympathizers who tried to console her and her aunt who was nearby, weeping.
According to Fatima, her aunt’s son, Khalid Adebayo, who is six years old, was still trapped in the building with no word about his fate.
“His name is Khalid Adebayo Alani, six years old in Primary 1. He attends the school,” she said.
As of 7 pm, Adebayo and many others were yet to be rescued, in an operation that looks set to go on for days.
Another distraught mother at the scene was worried for one of her children.
She told Channels TV that she had two children trapped in the rubble. While one had been rescued, she had no information about the second.
“I am just coming from the General Hospital; we took my eldest son there, but I am yet to see my younger child. Lukman in KG 2, a 3-year-old boy,” she said.
While speaking about her son, her phone rang, and she expressed the hope that the boy was still alive.
“I have faith, I know he is alive,” she said.
A rescue worker who craved anonymity said the fact that the victims were mostly children was an extra concern for them.
“Until we get to the bottom of the building and we must account for everybody that they claim are in the building,” he said.
“The school must have a record of pupils who have been here and expect parents to identify the victims rescued taken to Lagos Island General Hospital.”
Details about the school remain sketchy and residents referred to it simply as Aunty Esther School. It was gathered that the school is owned and operated by a middle-aged woman, Mrs. Esther Johnson.
The school had both kindergarten and primary sections and it was mostly attended by children in the neighborhood.
Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who visited the site, said, “It is quite an unfortunate incident, it’s an old building. We have rescued about 25 people and some already dead.”
“It is a residential building accommodating an illegal school, so to speak, and we will be undergoing a lot of integrity test with the buildings in this neighborhood.”
The scene at the Lagos Island General Hospital was not different from the Ita Faji collapse site. Parent had stormed the hospital to look for victims, and sympathizers were seen wearing gloomy faces.
As ambulances arrived one at a time from the site, people scampered to identify the next victim, either dead or alive.
Security operatives battled to manage the bitter crowd as people alleged that the list posted by the hospital authorities was misinforming.
A young man, who confirmed to Channels TV that his son had died, raged in anger as he caused a scene at the premises, even after several attempts to calm him down by family members and sympathizers.
“They told me that my son is alive and stable, I watched as they brought him out of the collapsed building. I chased the ambulance from Ita Faji to this place on a bike. I asked them to give him to me and they refused and later said he is stable. I went inside to discover that he is dead,” he said, as he dashed to the entrance of the hospital to vent his anger on some hospital workers.
Meanwhile, Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of health, Titilayo Goncalves, assured the parents and well-wishers that the hospitals are doing everything possible to save the lives of those rescued.
She added that the Island General Hospital served as a receiving center and when the patient had been stabilised, they would be moved to other tertiary institutions.
“It is a tragic day for us, but we are on top of the situation. Since it started, we have been evacuating patients, emergency care has been given to them all.”
“We have had a whole lot of people coming here, everybody is stable, we try to make them stable and inform tertiary hospitals like LASUTH, Onikan Health Centre, and Gbagada General Hospital that handle critical care on standby, we have transferred patients there already.”
On the number of casualties, Titilayo said: “Rescue operations are still ongoing, and we cannot give a confirmation on the number of casualties. We have a list of all the patients brought in here, so I cannot verify those taken to other hospitals.”