At least 16 people have been killed, and another 140 injured, in a large lightning strike on a Seventh-Day Adventist church in Rwanda on Saturday, days after a government crackdown on hundreds of churches was launched.
Local mayor Habitegeko Francois told AFP that most of the people died instantly when lightning hit the church in the town of Gihemvu, in the southern district of Nyaruguru, with 140 victims being rushed to hospitals.
The accident occurred Saturday while parishioners were attending service at the church, which wasn't named.
"Doctors say that only three of them (those injured) are in critical condition but they are getting better," Francois said. Many of the injured have been discharged.
Lighting also killed another person on Friday when it struck a group of 18 students in the area, officials said.
The Associated Press noted that lightning strikes occur frequently across Rwanda's hill and mountain areas. As many as 30 people were killed, and another 61 injured, in accidents in 2016, according to Rwanda's Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs.
The government of Rwanda announced earlier in March that it will be closing down 714 churches and one mosque, most of them Pentecostal, arguing that they do not meet safety and hygiene standards.
"Some churches conduct their worship services in shoddy and unclean structures, to the detriment of people's health and safety," said Anastase Shyaka, head of the Rwanda Governance Board.
"Cases of noise pollution have also been reported while some operate without the required operation permits."
Local news outlet Panor Actu noted that several of the closed churches did not have the required lightning rods installed, which serve to protect structures from lightning strikes.
Government official Justus Kangwagye said that infrastructure and legality were other issues forcing the closures.
"Worshiping should be done in an organized way and meet minimum standards. Exercising your freedom of worship should not encroach on other people's rights. They have been asked to halt operations until they meet the requirements," Kangwagye said.
Six pastors were arrested last week on suspicion of "illegal meetings with bad intentions" over the church closures.
The church pastors, among them a preacher identified only as Bishop Rugagi in a BBC News report, called the closures "abrupt."
Rwandan police spokesman Theos Badege told AFP that police have been conducting "investigations to find the masterminds behind this illegal act."
Bishop Innocent Nzeyimana, president of the Churches' Forum in Nyarugenge district, said that officials were being too strict and urged further consideration.
"Those that failed to implement a few requirements should be reopened and allowed to work while fixing the problems raised," he said of the closed churches.