Structural tests ordered after fatal Lagos building collapse

Lagos (AFP) - Engineers in Nigeria's financial capital, Lagos, on Wednesday ordered urgent structural tests to be carried out at a popular preacher's church after 70 people were killed in a building collapse.

The Lagos State Building Control Agency daubed red X-marks on buildings in the sprawling compound of televangelist TB Joshua's Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in the city's Ikotun area.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday said 67 of his compatriots were killed when a guesthouse for Joshua's foreign followers collapsed at the site last Friday.

But rescuers said the death toll had since risen, as a hunt for survivors neared a close.

"We have to ask for the tests because of what has happened," LASBCA general manager Abimbola Animashaun told AFP at the scene, pointing to one building which had an extra three storeys added.

"This one has been overloaded," she said. "If a disaster can happen here, we don't want it to happen elsewhere."

The structural integrity inspections should take 10 days to complete before a report is submitted, she added.

According to Joshua's website, scoan.org, three of the church's previous buildings were destroyed before the new church -- described as an "architectural masterpiece" -- was built.

"There was only one architect involved in the planning -- the Holy Spirit," he said.

The preacher, known to his followers as "The Prophet" because of his purported visions and miracles, has not publicly commented on the deaths.

Instead he has tried to shift suspicion on to Boko Haram militants and a low-flying plane seen over the building before the collapse.

Since Friday, he has only posted a series of Bible verses on his Facebook page and Twitter account. On Tuesday night he tweeted: "Hard times may test me, they cannot destroy me."

The investigation will look at Joshua's claim of low-flying aircraft, Lagos state commissioner for town planning and urban development Toyin Ayinde told Nigeria's Channels television.

Initial indications were that the building came down because extra floors were being added without strengthening the foundations and samples would be taken from the site, he added.

- Rescue effort -

Rescue workers were meanwhile picking through what remained of the guesthouse using excavators and even their bare hands in the hope of finding more survivors.

The southwest coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Ibrahim Farinloye, said the rescue operation was likely to end later on Wednesday.

"We have 70 dead, 131 rescued alive," he said. "Early this morning, we got two (bodies). Since day break we got three. Yesterday night we had two, making seven."

A woman was pulled alive from the building on Monday and escaped with minor injuries, fuelling hopes that others may yet be found alive.

"The challenges are coming much more, so we have to slow down our recovery," said Farinloye. "If we say we should rush or give time limits, definitely it would affect somebody or survivors."

There was a large police presence at the church and onlookers were moved away. A team from a Chinese engineering firm were seen on site helping rescuers.

The Lagos state government, NEMA and the South African authorities have all complained that Joshua, whose followers include top-level politicians and presidents, was not co-operating.

Rescuers were prevented from fully accessing the site until Sunday, raising fears that some of the victims could have been saved earlier.

Nigerians took to social media to voice their anger at the incident, arguing that Joshua should not be above the law.

Zuma said five South African church tour groups totalling about 300 people were thought to have been at the Pentecostal church at the time of the tragedy.

One South African travel agent, who asked not to be named, said some of the survivors flew back from Lagos on Sunday but were too distraught to recount their ordeal.

"It's a sensitive issue. They don't want to talk to anyone about what they saw. They are in shock, they are traumatised," he said.