Friday, 25 May 2001

Wedding disaster; 'The floor just opened up ... then I saw my brothers fall'

May 25, 2001


AT LEAST 15 wedding guests were killed and around 300 injured last night when a four-storey hall collapsed in Jerusalem.

Many were trapped under the rubble.

Scores more were taken to hospital after the tragedy in the Jewish half of the city.

Police said the collapse was caused by a structural failure and not a terrorist attack.

'People are trapped, people are dying here,' said one distressed witness.

Some 700 guests were celebrating on the top floor of the building when part of it caved in. Tons of masonry were sent plunging on to the floor below which also collapsed.

Wedding guests fell through the building and huge quantities of concrete and masonry landed on top of them.

'There was no blast,' said guest Yochi Bar-Zani. 'The floor opened up under me. I saw my brothers fall inside and I fell on top of them, burying them.'

'Three floors and the ceiling fell down,' said Shmuel Dimant, 27, blood streaming down his face.

'People were dancing and all of a sudden the dance floor collapsed, and all the tables around it fell through,' said Rami Mordechai, who said he was at the wedding but at a distance from the part of the floor that crumbled.

'People were flying through the air, the orchestra, the loudspeakers, everything fell,' said Efraim Rino, his voice choking as he told Israeli TV that some of the victims were his relatives.

One man described how he fell holding the hand of his ten-year- old son. He said both were rescued from beneath the rubble.

'Daddy, don't be frightened I'm with you,' he said his son told him. 'Then we fell through one floor and another.' Rescue workers used their bare hands to pull chunks of concrete off trapped wedding guests.

The collapse left a gaping hole with metal reinforcement cables hanging at twisted angles from the sides.

The bride was taken to Bikur Holim hospital in downtown Jerusalem, where a doctor said she was not seriously injured The casualty status of a person whose injury may or may not require hospitalization; medical authority does not classify as very seriously injured, seriously injured, or incapacitating illness or injury; and the person can communicate with the next of kin. Also called NSI. See also casualty status. .

Sara Pinhas, a relative of the groom, said dancers had lifted the father of the bride on a chair when suddenly he fell.

'Then we felt the whole building collapse, everything fell down. We managed to climb down the side of the building,' she said.

Dozens of ambulances from as far away as Tel Aviv 40 miles to the west were summoned to the Versailles Banqueting Suite as rescuers laid out the injured on pavements and car parks outside.

Fleets of rescue and emergency vehicles could be heard racing through the streets as every hospital in the city cleared its emergency room and went on to a disaster footing.

Units of the Israeli army who helped rescue victims of the Turkish earthquake and Nairobi bombings searched through the rubble.

Israeli interior minister Eli Ishai said 'at least 15 people were killed'.

Relatives gathered outside the hospitals, desperately seeking news of their loved ones. Some were covered with blood. Others said they helped pull victims out of the wreckage before beingtaken for treatment themselves.

Doctors said there were many children among the injured, including a three-month-old baby.

Dudu Adi, the owner of the hall, stood weeping at the scene. He said: 'The building is 12 years old and we have never had any problems with it.'

Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert said: 'This does not seem to have any links to any political or terrorist act but it is a grave disaster for us. This is a terrible, terrible tragedy.'

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