By Santosh Digal, BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent reporting from the region
MANILA/KATHMANDU (BosNewsLife)– A makeshift three-storey church building has collapsed on attendees of a major Christian conference in eastern Nepal, killing at least 24 people, and injuring over 60 others, police said Wednesday, September 30.
Around 1,500 Christians had gathered for the meeting this week in the eastern town of Dharan, and many were sleeping on the ground floor of the temporary extension of a church, made of bamboo and tin roofing, when the collapse took place, police officials said.
The region is about 240 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Katmandu. “The participants were preparing to sleep when the wall collapsed. Most of the victims were on the ground floor of the building,” police inspector Mohan Bikram Dahal told reporters.
It is a common practice in Nepal to construct temporary tents for religious or social functions.
Home Ministry spokesman Ekmani Nepal said in an interview that the home minister has visited Dharan to supervise the rescue efforts, which also involves the army.
Among those killed in the overnight accident were 17 women and four children, police said.
Many of those attending the annual convention of the El-Shaddai Church, an international Christian organisation, were from neighbouring India, and police said at least one of the dead was an Indian national.
Indian media said one of the victims has been identified as Nika Rai, a 35-year-old woman from Guathan in Siliguri in India’s West Bengal state.
Police said they were investigating the incident and the injured were reportedly taken to the nearby B.P. Koirala medical college hospital.
Christians, who are a minority in predominantly Hindu Nepal, had gathered in Dharan from throughout the country. There are about half a million Christians in Nepal.
The accident occurred during the holiday season in Nepal, which is celebrating its biggest annual festival, the Hindu festival of Dashain. It comes as Nepal’s Christian community is still reeling from a major bomb attack.
This month authorities in Nepal said police detained an alleged leader of a feared militant group who was seen as the mastermind of a deadly attack on a church and other institutions.
Ram Prasad Mainali, whom officials described as the leader of the underground Nepal Defense Army (NDA) and one of the country’s “most wanted men”, was arrested in the southeastern town of Biratnagar on Saturday, September 5.
The NDA is a Hindu organisation that says it wants to restore Nepal’s Hindu monarchy, abolished in 2008.That group claimed responsibility for the May 23 bombing in May of the Catholic Assumption Church in Kathmandu that killed two women and a school girl. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).