Johannesburg, September 19- The number of South Africans known to have died in the collapse of a multi-storey megachurch in Lagos last week has risen to 84, Pretoria’s high commissioner to Nigeria said Friday.,
“The number has risen from 67 to 84, with more bodies discovered on Thursday,” Lulu Mnguni told AFP, adding that the toll could rise.
“The number of South Africans who were in the church might be higher, as we believe that some people organised the trip themselves without using travel agents,” Mnguni said.
A multi-storey hotel linked to controversial preacher and televangelist TB Joshua collapsed on Friday, but it was Tuesday before South African President Jacob Zuma announced any South African fatalities.
Mnguni said forensic tests were still to be conducted to verify the identities of the dead.
South Africa has sent a team of 10 disaster management personnel, including doctors to help in the search.
It is believed that there were 349 South Africans visiting the popular church at the time of the crash.
Some pilgrims have returned home, telling harrowing stories of their lucky escape, after being buried under concrete slabs.
Mnguni described some of the injuries to local media, including a woman who was “speared through the chest by a steel bar.”
“The injury was so horrific but she refused to leave her friends trapped under the rubble,” Mnguni told The Times newspaper.
“Somehow it missed all her vital organs and spine. She pulled it out herself,” he said.
Some distraught family members of pilgrims have been waiting in vain in the arrivals hall at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, checking flights arriving from Lagos.
Thousands of South Africans often travel to Nigeria to see TB Joshua at his Synagogue Church of All Nations, some seeking healing from terminal illnesses such as cancer.
Dubbed “The Prophet” by fanatical followers who believe he can predict the future, Joshua is politically well connected in Nigeria and beyond, counting presidents and prime ministers among his flock.
In a statement on Thursday, TB Joshua denied allegations that he was not cooperating and stuck to his theory that the building collapse was possibly caused by a low-flying airplane.
South Africa has played down accusations that the delay in responding was caused by the Nigerian authorities being slow to provide information.
International Relations Minister Nkoana Mashabane on Wednesday admitted that “working together with the Synagogue people has not been easy”.
Rescue workers on the scene have complained that Joshua’s staff at the Synagogue Church of All Nations impeded their work.