At least 10 children were among scores of people missing Wednesday after a four-storey building collapsed in Lagos, with rescuers trying to reach them through the roof of the damaged structure.
The children were attending a nursery and primary school on the top floor of the residential building when the structure collapsed.
Police said they believed scores of people were trapped under the rubble.
The incident took place near Itafaji market on Lagos Island in Nigeria’s economic capital at around 10am (GMT).
In chaotic scenes, panicked parents, local residents and shocked onlookers rushed to the area as police, firemen and medics staged a massive rescue operation.
It was not immediately clear how many people were inside at the time of the collapse, nor were there any figures for the tally of dead or injured.
“We are still trying to find out how many are trapped inside,” said police officer Seun Ariwyo, who added that the number was probably scores.
He said “at least 20 have been brought out” but did not say whether they were alive or dead.
A young man helping rescue efforts who gave his name only as Derin said “at least 10 children” were trapped inside but “thought to be alive.”
An AFP reporter at the scene saw at least eight people pulled from the wreckage, including a small boy with blood on his face.
Covered in dust, he was alive but unconscious and appeared to be badly hurt.
One local resident who witnessed the moment of collapse said there was no warning.
“We were smoking outside when the building just collapsed,” Olamide Nuzbah said.
As rescuers worked furiously to reach those inside, distraught parents begged them to find their children.
“Please, save my child, save my child!” wept one traumatised mother whose seven-year-old daughter was trapped inside, as people tried in vain to console her.
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 to help the rescue efforts.
As the day wore on, an AFP correspondent saw several children being brought out, at least one of whom appeared to be dead.
Elsewhere, hundreds of local residents tried to help, passing water and helmets through to dust-covered rescuers working tirelessly to sift through the rubble, some of whom appeared to be distressed.
Many locals said the building, which was in an advanced state of disrepair, had been “earmarked” for demolition by the authorities in Lagos state.
Lagos, which has a population of 20-million people and serves as Nigeria’s economic capital, is made up of a collection of islands.
One of them is Lagos Island, a densely-populated area which is one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods.
It is characterised by its Afro-Brazilian architecture, a style brought over by thousands of freed slaves who headed back home after decades working the plantations in Brazil.
Despite efforts to renovate the area, a large number of buildings remain abandoned or in a state of disrepair which have been taken over by families or businesses, despite being dilapidated and unsafe.
Building collapses are tragically common in Nigeria, where building regulations are routinely flouted.
In September 2014, 116 people died — 84 of them South Africans — when a six-storey building collapsed in Lagos where a celebrity televangelist was preaching.
An inquiry found it had structural flaws and had been built illegally.
And two years later, at least 60 people were killed when the roof collapsed at a church in Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom state, in the east of the country.
© Agence France-Presse