Synagogue Catastrophe: South Africa Evacuates 74 Bodies

Following the forensic examination of the 115 bodies recovered under the rubble of the Synagogue for All Nations (SCOAN), the South African government Saturday evacuated its casualties.

This is coming more than two months (exactly 65 days) after the building, housing the foreign guest house section of the church collapsed at the Ikotun area of Lagos on September 12.

The 80-man team constituted to expedite the evacuation of the bodies had arrived Nigeria on Friday and commenced preparations to evacuate the 74 bodies of their countrymen, including three Zimbabweans and a Congolese.

The three Zimbabweans and the Democratic Republic of Congo had entered Nigeria using South African travel papers, as was discovered during the post-mortem examination.

It was gathered that the bodies would be airlifted by the two South African aircraft, which had already been secured for the highly-militarised operation.

While one of the aircraft conveyed the repatriation team, the second one, an Antonov 124 cargo plane, was used to transport the eight vehicles and highly specialised equipment used for the operation.

According to the SA spokesperson, Phumla Williams, the mass body repatriation team consists of 80 specialist members from the department of health, the SA Police Service and the SA Military Health Service.

Upon arrival, the team was split into three to cover the different morgues (Ikeja, Mainland Hospital, Yaba and Isolo General Hospital) where the bodies were stored in the cold room for preservation.

The team members at the Yaba General Hospital were seen in protective gears as they evacuated the deceased persons, which was in line with what Williams had earlier said.

The spokesperson had said the team were charged to follow strict safety procedures in order to safeguard themselves from potential risks due to the time period since the incident happened.

The operation started from the different morgues, where the different teams evacuated the bodies and put them in the four forensic pathology trucks mapped out and designed to transport corpses.

It was however expected that before the bodies were evacuated, a formal handover ceremony would have occurred between the SA government officials and Nigerian emergency bodies who facilitated the rescue operation months back.

As at press time, journalists waited endlessly at the conference room of Protea Hotel, Ikeja, where the official handover ceremony was expected to take place.

At the centre were the National Emergency Management Agency’s (NEMA) Director Search and Rescue Operations, Otegbade Charles; the Lagos Zonal Coordinator, Onimode Bandele and the zonal Public Relations Officer, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye.

Also, the Managing Director, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Femi Okei-Osayintolu, was among those waiting for the official handover to commence, but as at 8pm, the South African team were yet to arrive.

Barring any unforeseen circumstance, the two aircraft are expected to take off from the presidential wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos (yesterday night) and land at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria on Sunday morning.

However, It was gathered that once the team touches base in South Africa, the government would hold a private formal reception ceremony before the bodies would be taken to government mortuaries in the different provinces. It is from those mortuaries, Williams disclosed, that the bodies would be released to their different next-of-kin for burial.

Author: News Editor

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