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Last Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006, 12:50 GMT
Eyewitness: Helping Ugandan worshippers
Sunday Sula Lasa, 38, coordinator for the non-government organisation African Action was the first person at the scene of the Ugandan church catastrophe in Kampala's northern Kalerwe district. He told the BBC News website how he tried to help.

Two young female survivors share a hospital bed at Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda
The wounded were ferried to hospital by car
Once in a while I worship at that Pentecostal church, the City of the Lord.

I almost went on Wednesday afternoon but then, God bless. I don't know why I was feeling within my heart not to go, but I didn't.

I went to visit a friend of mine who lives nearby instead. He wasn't at home but as it was raining really hard I took shelter on the veranda.

The rain wasn't stopping and I was far from home so decided to get on my way and brave the downpour.

My motorbike was low on fuel. While I was filling it up at the service station my phone rang.

Rescue call

It was Nathan, the pastor's son. There had been an accident - the church's roof had collapsed crushing many, including his mother.

Rescuers and civilians try to lift the rubble in the ruins of a church after the roof collapsed during a service in Kampala, Uganda
Many helped rescue people and move debris late into the night

He asked me to come and help him rescue her.

I rode straight away to a car hire place close by. I then went ahead to the scene while four drivers followed.

Many people were outside already. They were crying, wailing and praying to Jesus. It was very loud, the atmosphere was one of shock and still the rain kept falling.

I called the police. Within about 25 minutes they were at the scene too.

No warning

Talking to people I gathered there had been more than 300 worshippers in the church at the time of the catastrophe between 1830 and 1930 local time.

The service had started at 1500. It should've ended at 1700 but because of the rain they had persisted with their praising.

Map of Uganda showing the capital city
Some of the congregation were from areas outside of the capital

Those that had been inside told me how suddenly they had become aware that the walls were shaking. At that moment, realising it was a danger, it just collapsed.

It didn't take long. There was no time or warning.

One wall fell directly into the church. The other wall fell outside. It demolished the neighbouring house, killing the two people that were home.

Many, out of the falling wall's path, managed to escape. But those in its way were crushed by the concrete, heavy pieces of brick and the metal pillars and structural reinforcements. Iron sheets and timber that had once been the roof covered everything.

Heart to help

We pulled people out from under the rubble. Many had broken legs, broken arms. Some were already dead. Others very critical.

Mariam with her mother and Australian Jean Leak who runs African Action organisation (Jean sent this picture into yourpics@bbc.co.uk)
We're hoping that a good Samaritan has picked her up and is looking after her

The wounded were ferried to hospital in the hired cars. Some were even put in the boot. We tried to put as many at a time as we could in the cars so they could make it to hospital quick.

Unfortunately the pastor's wife never made it. She leaves behind her husband, Pastor Sam Sseuliba, their seven children plus their two adopted youngsters.

At the scene of the disaster there were those with the heart to help. And there were those only there to bring trouble.

Some looting went on. That area is a poor area in the city and many living there take drugs and are hooligans.

They stole the church's generator, the computers and keyboards. They also took ladies' handbags - women had made up the larger part of the congregation.

These bad people made it very hard to focus but we had to ignore them. We let them be, ignoring them and just concentrated on the job at hand.

Our hearts were there to help and we wanted to save lives.

Missing

All the debris has now been cleared away. The police have cordoned off the area because some parts of the walls are still dangerous. They are just hanging.

There is nothing more to do.

Except we are still missing one little girl.

Her name is Mariam.

Someone in the congregation told her mother that when everything started crashing down they scooped her up and ran with her to safety.

They then started helping others though, and so can't remember seeing her after that.

We're hoping that a good Samaritan has picked her up and is looking after her and will bring her home soon.


Update on Mariam's whereabouts from Sunday Sula Lasa on Friday 10 March:

Mariam was found yesterday evening.

As we had suspected a good Samaritan had been taking care of her since the accident. Mariam had been taken to a local Christian FM radio station.

I rang the station after a friend had heard the broadcast detailing her whereabouts.

Her mother then went to collect her and they are now reunited and safe at home.



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