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Church death toll tentative: Radebe

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The death toll of 84 South Africans in the Nigerian church collapse remains a “tentative figure”, Presidency Minister Jeff Radebe said on Friday.

“As of yesterday evening the total number of unaccounted for South Africans and presumably deceased remains at 84,” Radebe told reporters in Pretoria.

“This figure however remains tentative as it is still subject to confirmation through the forensic tests. As soon as our team have completed that verification, we will know exactly how many South Africans have perished.”

The minister, who heads an inter-ministerial task team on the disaster, said a team of senior South African rescue and forensics experts had arrived in Nigeria and started work.

“The assessment team is focusing on the following specific areas: body recovery and repatriations, victims listing and confirmation, post mortems, as well as assessment of injured persons to determine the medical condition and required levels of care.”

Radebe said government had dispatched teams to give psycho-social support to the families of the injured and deceased. Social workers were at OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, to support families waiting for injured relatives.

So far no bodies had been flown back to South Africa, he added.

Asked about reports of tension between Pretoria and Abuja about rescue operations, Radebe said as far as the government knew, the South African team had been allowed onto the site where the multi-storey guest house of the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed last Friday.

He said President Jacob Zuma had spoken to his Nigerian counterpart Goodluck Jonathan by telephone on Thursday.

“We did get information about challenges in the church there, but I think that question must be left to the Nigerian government to respond to. But as far as we are concerned the Nigerian government has communicated with our government.

“Our understanding is that right now our team has access to the site.”

A total of 349 South Africans were in Lagos on church business when the building collapsed. Of these, 265 were reported to have been found alive. SAPA

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