ABUJA // A condemned building that collapsed in Nigeria's capital has killed 19 people, police said on Thursday, while squatters who lived there described jumping from two storeys up to escape. The collapse involved a half-built building that authorities said had been declared structurally unsound, but residents said around 50 people lived there. It was described as three or four storeys high. "Nineteen dead bodies have so far been recovered while 12 others were rescued alive," said the Abuja police spokesman Abass Jimoh.
National Emergency Management Agency deputy director Daniel Balarabe Gambo put the death toll at 17, however, and added that residents had been warned that the building was unsafe. Gambo said they had been told to evacuate, but refused. "They were given notices to vacate the building, but they ignored the warning," he said. "It was the structure we tested and found that it was not up to standard."
Officials said that rescue operations were hampered by a lack of digging equipment. The site, located in a residential area with a mix of large, walled-off houses and apartment buildings, had already been bulldozed on Thursday, leaving only piles of smashed concrete, broken wood and twisted metal. One woman who was among those at the site said her sister and her four-year-old nephew were among those killed.
"She was trying to come out and a pillar fell on her," said Vivian Rogunwa, 29. Rogunwa said she did not live in the building, but was there at the time of the collapse because she was staying with a friend and managed to escape. A 28-year-old man was among those who said they jumped out of the building when it began to shake. "I woke up and I heard the building shaking," Hussaini Abubakar said. "I jumped from the second floor."
It took less than five minutes for the building to cave, residents said, while disputing officials' claims that they had been warned to leave. "The building did not give anybody any sign that it was going to fall," said Ms Rogunwa. Of the warning officials said they had provided, she said, "there was nothing like that." Others who said they lived there agreed. Building collapses are relatively common in Nigeria, mainly due to the use of sub-standard materials and violations of construction regulations in a country that has long been tainted by corruption.
Minister for Abuja, Bala Mohammed, said on national television that it was the third building collapse in the city since he came into office three months ago, though he did not give details. Government officials have pledged to better enforce construction codes since the collapse, while Gambo said police should be called in to vacate buildings deemed unsafe. In July 2008, a building under construction collapsed in Abuja, killing at least three workers.