Durban – The KwaZulu-Natal provincial government would assist with funerals for congregants who died when a church wall collapsed during an Easter service outside Empangeni on Thursday, it has said.
Premier Willies Mchunu made the announcement from his Durban-based office on Monday following a special sitting of the provincial executive council, which was convened to decide on "a way forward" following the tragedy. Mchunu was joined by his MECs at the press briefing.
Twelve women and a 10-year-old boy were killed when a brick wall at the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Dlangubo collapsed during a Passover service. Sixteen other congregants were injured.
The premier said the number of deceased and injured, and the “timing” of the incident (Easter weekend), ranked it as “unprecedented” for the province.
“The front wall of the church collapsed at around 10.15pm as a result of a severe thunderstorm which was accompanied by strong winds in the area that had undermined the structural foundations of the building,” said Mchunu.
A number of the injured who were still at Ngwelezane Hospital, just outside Empangeni, were being treated for various fractures, he said.
Police have said an inquest docket had been opened. This will presumably include scrutinising adherence to building requirements. A forensic engineering team was also conducting an investigation to determine if the collapse was due to structural defects.
“We are advised that forensic teams are still busy with their investigative reports on this horrific accident and we will communicate the outcomes once all processes are concluded,” said Mchunu.
Government and church representatives would be in attendance on Tuesday as family members gathered at a mortuary in the Richards Bay area to identify the dead, the premier said.
A prayer service would take place at 9am before the bodies were viewed, he said.
A memorial service would be held on Thursday and funeral details – set for the weekend – would be conveyed at a later stage.
“This is a time to come together to pray, grieve and to extend a helping hand. Let us all join these efforts to ensure that life in this devastated community returns to normality as soon as possible,” said Mchunu.
In a statement issued on Monday, the province’s cooperative governance and traditional affairs department said an operations’ centre had been pitched to assist those who would be identifying the corpses of their loved ones. "An additional team of doctors will be brought in to assist."
In a statement issued on Sunday, bishop Moses Sibiya of the Pentecostal Holiness Church said: “We have been assured by government that a formal report of the investigation into this tragedy will be presented to the church once all investigating processes have been finalised.”
African News Agency (ANA)