• Official casualty figure now 26
Okon Bassey in Uyo
Akwa Ibom State Government yesterday dismissed any plan for the state to organise a mass burial for victims in the collapsed church building of Reigners Bible Church International Inc. in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital.
The clarification on the issue of mass burial of the victims was given at a press briefing held by the state government in Uyo, just as official and authentic figure of death recorded in the incident was put by the state government at 26.
The Special Assistant to the Governor on Public Affairs, Mr. Raphel Edem, was the spokesperson; with the state Commissioner for Health, Dominic Ukpong, Commissioner for Works, Ephraim Inyang, Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of the state, Uwenedimo Nwoko, the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Cordelia Nwaiwe and SA to the Governor on Medical in the panel.
“People are afraid that there will be mass burial, so they have been invading the hospitals, some of them actually attack some of our staff demanding the discharge of their dead.
“I want to assure you that government has no intention to do mass burial for the victims. What we are doing is to ensure that we preserve the bodies properly until the police give us the authority to release them.
“And when people come to claim them they have to be properly identified because at a time like this some people come to claim corpses that are not theirs. It is our responsibility to see that we release each body to the proper persons.
“There are four of these bodies not identified at all. I have brought experts to test for proper data so that people will not claim what is not their own. Let me announce to the state that government is responsible for all hospital charges of all those involved,” the Health Commissioner stated.
He explained that 168 cases were on admission in various hospitals, 30 of them have been discharged, while some are still in the hospitals; with 150 in the outpatient department who had been treated and released.
“We have conducted eight major surgeries. Most of these are people thought to have been killed. As at today, the death toll is 26. This report cannot be refuted.
“When you have such a tragedy with mass casualties there is bound to be confusion in figures. The most authentic figure is from the health department. At a time like this, there is a lot of anxiety and confusion.”
The SA on Public Information had in his briefing said: “After making the rounds of all the hospitals concerned, and in consultation with officials of the health and security services who were directly involved in the rescue operations, the figures we have been able to reconcile indicate that 26 people passed on as a result of the incident.”
“The government is at a loss as to how members of the public came by the alarming and bogus figures being bandied around by rumour mongers and some sections of the media.
“The government believes that it is morally wrong to seek to make profit form this tragedy by publishing sensational figures in order to boost newspaper sales, listenership or viewership.
“As much as we understand the desire to claim the remains of their loved ones, government also wishes to appeal to the family members of those who passed on to exercise patience as their demands would be met as soon as the security agencies conclude their investigations.
The state government announced the restriction of members of the public from the site of the incident saying only investigators are allowed access to the environment.
He said the panel of investigation set up by the state government made up of seasoned professionals will commence work immediately on the tragedy.