Families of KZN church collapse victims to identify loved ones

22 April 2019 - 17:40 By Nonkululeko Njilo
Thirteen people were killed and 16 injured when a church collapsed in northern KZN during a storm.
Thirteen people were killed and 16 injured when a church collapsed in northern KZN during a storm.
Image: Supplied

The heartbroken families of 13 worshippers who died when a portion of a wall at the Pentecostal Holiness Church, near Empangeni in northern KwaZulu-Natal, collapsed last week are expected to identify the remains of their loved ones on Tuesday. 

The wall collapsed on April 18 at around 10pm as the congregants gathered for a service ahead of the Easter weekend.

Five more people were critically injured and taken to hospital, while 11 others with minor injuries were treated at the Ngwelezane Clinic in Empangeni.

“Bereaved families will [on April 23] make their way to the Richards Bay Medico-Legal Mortuary to identify the remains of their loved ones who passed away when a portion of the church building belonging to members of the Pentecostal Holiness Church collapsed recently, claiming the lives of 13 congregants,” said Robert McKenzie, provincial emergency services spokesperson.

McKenzie said the process of identifying the deceased would commence at 9am in Richards Bay, after a short prayer service.

A number of services were roped in to assist families of the deceased.

“Government has pitched an operations centre to provide counselling and medical care to relatives as they undertake the difficult task of identifying the mortal remains of their loved ones. An additional team of doctors will be brought on board to also assist,” added McKenzie.  

Labour minister Mildred Oliphant visited the church on Friday and said she was devastated by the deaths. 

Outlining what may have happened, Oliphant said preliminary reports showed that “inclement weather conditions with heavy rainfall and violent storms” had hit the area outside Empangeni in the north of the province.

“This happened as congregants were preparing to rest, when a large part of the front wall collapsed, causing the traumatic disaster. Most of the deceased church members come largely from three areas: six are from Ulundi, four from Esikhawini, and three from Maqhwakaza.

She added that it was normal, according to Reverend Phiwayinkosi Sibiya, that women slept separately from men during the church service.

“The building whose wall collapsed would have served as a sleeping area for the female congregants,” said Oliphant.