On Sunday, September 1, 2018, over 80 parishioners were observing the morning Mass at St. Paul Catholic Church, Adagbrasa-Ugolo, Delta State, when the church building collapsed.
The anguish and sorrow that greeted Adagbrasa-Ugolo, an agrarian community in Okpe Local Government Area of Delta State, last Sunday following the collapse of the St. Paul Catholic Church building in the community, can be described as a sad interruption to the peace and quiet that had reigned in the community for a long time.
And as this reporter returned to the community for a second time during the week, it was evident that the community had yet to come to terms with the incident, which claimed the life of an 11-year-old boy, Jeffrey Enukanerirhe, and left over 25 persons injured.
It was learnt that the building caved in when worshippers had just ended morning prayers and were patiently waiting for the seminarian sent by the priest in charge of the parish covering St. Paul, to conduct the Holy Mass.
St. Paul is the oldest church in the community and said to be about 100 years old.
Victims speak from hospital beds
Still battling with the injuries they sustained in the incident, some victims recounted their experiences to our correspondent on their hospital beds.
A 95-year-old retired teacher, Pa Mike Ikube, was among the worshippers who cheated death; though, he was severely injured. Two octogenarians were equally said to have been injured.
Ikube, one of oldest persons in the community, described the incident as terrible, but said it would not prevent me from attending church services, as he spoke with Saturday PUNCH on his hospital bed.
“I’m still feeling pain in my chest and back. The building fell on us and the rubble pressed me against the bench I was sitting on. Although, the doctor has given me injection, my body hurts.
“I have been worshipping in the church for a long time. There was a time I angrily left but I returned there in 2014. Since then, I have been very committed. What happened on Sunday was terrible but God defeated the plans of the devil. When I leave here (hospital), I’ll still continue to serve God. This failed incident will not prevent me and my family from serving God,” he said.
Ikube also thanked the state government for promising to foot their medical bills, while calling for support to rebuild the church.
Also speaking, Mrs. Agnes Egivwie, who had planned to do thanksgiving in the church because his children had passed their examinations, said the move was botched by the incident.
She said, “On that Sunday, we had 7am Mass and on getting there, I went to meet one of the church executives to inform them that I would want to do thanksgiving.
“Then, I returned to my seat and about two minutes later, as I was reading, it all happened. I was trapped and I started calling the name of Jesus, but I couldn’t move my body. Even now, I’m seriously injured; my waist and head hurt badly.
“I wanted to do the thanksgiving because of my children who passed their junior secondary certificate examinations. I’ll still continue to serve God; He was the one who saved me and other church members on that day. My faith is even stronger now. But my last son, Dominion, broke his leg,” she said.
How trouble started
An executive of the church, Mr. Daniel Egivwie, whose wife and son were trapped in the rubble and sustained injuries, told our correspondent that the building started collapsing when the seminarian that was supposed to conduct Mass was arriving.
Egivwie narrated that the incident occurred at about 7:10am, while the Mass was slated for 7am, meaning that the Catholic priest trainee had arrived behind schedule probably because of the long distance he had to travel.
He noted that the incident might have “recorded more casualties had the Mass begun as scheduled”.
A parishioner, who identified herself as Madam Mary, said everything happened so fast that everyone ran for safety first, even before thinking of their spouses or children in the church with them.
Although what led to the collapse has yet to be determined, some church members observed that the constant rain experienced recently could have contributed to it, especially as the building was old.
Also speaking, the state Commissioner for Works, Chief James Augoye, said the building had collapsed because of an attempt to rebuild and expand the old church.
He said, “The building is 100 years old and in an attempt to rebuild and expand it, the old building collapsed as a result of the heavily soaked foundation and the weight of worshippers, who had leaned against the walls while waiting for morning Mass to commence.”
Delta govt, DTHA to foot medical bills
Meanwhile, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and the Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly, Chief Sheriff Oborevwori, have separately promised to pay for the medical bills of the victims.
Augoye, after making a cash donation at Orerokpe General Hospital on Sunday, assured the victims that the state government would offset their medical bills while directing the hospital management to give prompt treatment to the injured.
Okowa, had in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Charles Aniagwu, described the incident as “indeed very sad and unfortunate.”
I grieve over my dead son but glad he died in God’s house – Father of 11-year-old killed in incident
The pain of loss and grief of the community, not just the parishioners of the collapsed church building, was written all over the place, especially on the sad faces of residents. And the grief became more evident as one approached the home of Jackson Enukanerirhe, a local businessman and chairman of Laity Council in the parish.
It was Enukanerirhe’s son, Jeffrey, who lost his life in the incident.
Enukanerirhe described the death of his son as a big blow to his family, one they would never recover from.
He said, “I was in church with my six children and wife. We ate together that morning in the church. As Catholics, we follow procedure by starting service with morning prayers. At about 7am when we were done, we were waiting for the seminarian to begin the Holy Mass but all of a sudden, we started hearing the sound of the building collapsing and we all started running for safety.
“Before we realised it, the entire building had collapsed with many of the parishioners trapped inside. Immediately, we started rescuing those who were trapped in the rubble. But unknown to me, my own son had died. We realised he was missing, but we thought he was among those trapped inside the church and not rescued yet. So, we started searching for him. We finally found him outside; the collapsed wall fall on him.
“When we found him, we didn’t believe he was dead so we rushed him to a hospital, where a doctor told us that he was already dead.”
Despite the agony, Enukanerirhe was however happy that his son died in God’s house.
He said, “This incident will not prevent us from serving God; rather, I can confidently tell you that the death of my son has deepened my faith in God and the Catholic Church where we worship.
“It could have been worse than this. If not for God, my entire family would have been dead by now.
“He was buried right in the church. He was buried beside Papa Paul, who brought Catholic Church to this community. I will greatly miss him because he was more intelligent than his age. He was very intelligent and good at many things, including playing of musical instruments and cutting of hair. He was the one who cut the grass on the field few days before he died. He was my third male child and fourth among my six children.”
When Enukanerirhe was asked if he had any premonition before the incident, he said, “I never had any premonition before the tragic incident occurred. If the children or I had had any form of premonition, we wouldn’t have gone to Mass on that day.”
Jeffrey’s friend, Ochuko, 12, was at the graveside of his late friend when our correspondent caught up with him.
With tears in his eyes, he said Jeffrey would not have died if people had discovered him earlier, adding that he could have marched to death during the rescue mission.
“Where his corpse was finally discovered was where rescuers had been standing and passing. If we people had known he was under the wall that fell, he wouldn’t have died. He was my very good friend. He was the leader of our group and was very intelligent. We’ll greatly miss him,” Ochuko said.