Tragedy caved in on Lagos yesterday when a three-storey building housing a private school collapsed at Massey Street, Lagos Island. Apart from the pupils of Ohen Nursery and Primary School, the collapsed building equally accommodated tenants in residence before it caved in around 10 am, according to eyewitnesses. The Nursery and Primary School occupied the first and second floors of the building while, other tenants live on the ground floor with some shops attached to the building. Sources further informed that the private school had over 150 pupils, excluding teachers, support staff and visitors who might have visited the premises before it went down. The building was also said to have been marked for demolition by the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning, but backdoor moves by the owners of the structure led to a renovation which was reportedly completed last week. At least, 52 pupils and 10 lifeless bodies had been pulled out of the rubble at press time. The Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) confirmed the incident and rescue efforts. Yemisi Bankole, the Deputy Head of Itafaaji Market Union said they were at the market when they learnt of the sound of the building collapse. Upon the collapse of the building, hundreds of people in the neighborhood rushed to the scene and were able rescue few pupils before the arrival of LASEMA officials and other rescue teams. Due to the number of sympathizers, it was difficult for LASEMA officials to carry out their duty diligently as the surging crowd compounded the rescue efforts as they stepped on areas they were urged not to go to, which sometimes caved in and compounded the plight of the people trapped underneath the rubble. Even as several pupils and teachers, are still trapped in the rubble as at press time, casualties and corpses have been taken to nearby private and public hospitals, witnesses said. The Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode, one of the early sympathizers to the scene described as unfortunate that a school existed in the building, but assured of maximum support for the victims, including paying their hospital bills. “It is evident that Lagos State is not aware of such school; it is illegal and the culprits will face the law,” the governor said. He added: “The first observation is that the foundation of this building is an old one. Like what you have seen, two floors have gone under the ground. It is only the pent house and the other floor that children have been rescued,” the governor said. “So far what we have been briefed is that they have rescued about 35 pupils, some already dead. But we were earlier informed it was a school. “It is not technically a school but a residential building that is actually accommodating an illegal school so to speak. “All we are trying to do is to continue this operation. Our response team are already here. We have gotten another crane to be able to go deeper down and rescue more children.” Adesina Tiamiyu, the General Manager of LASEMA, who also arrived at the scene, told journalists that residents of the area had been very helpful as they had begun rescue operations before the arrival of his team. He however said his men are still working to ensure that those that are still trapped get rescued.
“Parents will be allowed to identify their children. We will not stop until we are sure that there is no one left in the building. It is only them we shall release casualty figures,” he added.
On his part, Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Titi Gonclaves, who spoke to newsmen at the Lagos Island General Hospital, said 20 casualties were brought in and were being attended to, adding that five persons have been transferred to other hospitals.
Erinoluwa Akinmoladun, son of the owner of the collapsed building, who is also seen assisting in the rescue operations said he noticed the weakness in the structure of the building this morning and alerted his father without knowing that the building was going to collapse.
“I left my father and sisters at home,” he said
He said his father had been rescued, but he was not sure if all his siblings had been rescued from the debris.
It was observed that parents of the affected children were seen crying in front of Massey Children Hospital situated on the same street, where some of the victims were taken to.
A resident said: “Government has marked the building for demolition several times, but they will only patch it and put tiles on the building after bribing the officials”.
Ayinke Busari, a friend to a parent at the school, said that she is there in place of her friend, Taiwo, who had been taken home to take care of her baby.
“She has seven children in the school, two have been found, but they are yet to locate the remaining ones. We’ve sent her home because she has a baby,” Mrs Busari said.