Rescuers combed through the rubble early Thursday after at least eight people were killed and as many as 100 children feared trapped when a building housing a school collapsed in Nigeria‘s commercial capital, Lagos.
The incident took place near Itafaji market on Lagos Island at around 10am local time (09:00 GMT).
While awaiting official rescue efforts, many locals and passersby began their own attempts to free people from the debris, using their bare hands to shift slabs of concrete.
“Dozens of children were trapped inside,” Adesina Tiamiyu, head of Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), which is supervising the rescue operation, told reporters.
So far, emergency workers pulled 40 people alive from the rubble, some of them badly injured, he said.
Breaking: A 3 storey building with a primary school inside has collapsed in Lagos island at the Faji junction. pic.twitter.com/bDar8a1Vtr
— National Industrial Safety Council of Nigeria (@NISCN_Nigeria) March 13, 2019
Workers from the Red Cross and police shovelled debris away as thousands of people swarmed around the accident site, erupting into cheers as limp forms were pulled from the rubble.
Residents of the area said about 100 children attended the school, which was on the third floor of the building. The structure also housed offices, shops and residential units.
School bags, toys, and clothes could be seen among the piles of rubble as a bulldozer tried to clear a path through some of the wreckage.
“I was passing by and heard a house collapsed. I had to straight away reach people living in there to rescue those that could be rescued,” a man involved in the rescue efforts told reporters.
“At least some people have been rescued and taken to hospitals. They are mainly students as there is a school there,” he said.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from the scene, Tiamiyu praised the response of the local community, saying locals had “saved so many lives” before official responders arrived.
Locals passed water and helmets to dust-covered rescuers attempting to sift through the debris.
One local resident told AFP news agency the building collapsed without warning.
“We were smoking outside when the building just collapsed,” said Olamide Nuzbah.
As night fell on the scene, bright lights were brought in to allow search efforts to go on.
“We will continue to go ahead until we are sure no one is buried under the rubble,” Tiamiyu said. “What the excavator is doing is carefully going through the rubble, clearing it and looking for possible trapped persons, either dead or alive, and once we see them, we will stop and bring them out”.
On densely populated Lagos Island, buildings are often put up without official permits, according to Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, speaking earlier on Wednesday from the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
Lagos is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa, resulting in fierce competition for land. It is not clear whether the collapsed building failed to meet safety standards.
“It’s common to find schools in residential areas and in other locations that were not meant for educational institutions,” Idris said.
— Lagos State Police Command II (@rrslagos767) March 13, 2019
Tiamiyu was also sceptical that the building met the safety standards.
“I doubt whether the Lagosian government would have approved a school in a building like this,” he said.
In September 2014, 116 people died when a six-floor building where a celebrity televangelist was preaching collapsed in Lagos.
Two years later, at least 60 people were killed when a church came down in southeastern Nigeria.