At least 10 killed, more than 200 hurt in collapse of Jerusalem wedding hall
JERUSALEM (AP) – A three-story wedding hall where hundreds of people were dancing collapsed Thursday night, killing at least 15 and injuring more than 200 others, police said. It appeared to be an accident, not a terror attack.
The injured were rushed to hospitals, while dozens more remained trapped under huge concrete slabs and metal wreckage. Amid signs of life, rescuers worked feverishly to reach them.
About 700 people were dancing at a reception at the Versailles wedding hall when the building collapsed, witnesses said.
”People were flying through the air, the orchestra, the loudspeakers, everything fell,” said Efraim Rino, his voice choking as he told Israel television that some of the victims were his relatives.
Jerusalem police commander Miki Levy said it it was ”absolutely not” a terrorist attack. He said the collapse was due to a ”structural failure.” Eyewitnesses interviewed by Israeli radio stations did not talk of an explosion.
Levy said 247 victims had been taken to Jerusalem hospitals and that several were killed – though he did no say how many. Israeli media quoted police as saying that 15 people were killed.
He said rescue efforts continued nonstop with a special Israeli army rescue unit that has been sent abroad in the past to dig out earthquake victims working at the scene.
Meir Harel, a fire department official, said rescue services were not set up for a disaster of this scope, even though emergency rooms have procedures in place for large terror attacks.
Israel radio reported that a convoy of ambulances was heading to Jerusalem from other parts of the country, and broadcast appeals to Jerusalem hospital employees to report to their workplaces immediately. The Magen David Adom emergency service appealed for blood donations.
The wedding was taking place on the top floor of the building, and the other two floors were not being used, Levy said.
Sara Pinhas, a relative of the groom, said dancers had lifted the father of the bride on a chair when suddenly he fell, ”and then we felt the whole building collapse, everything fell down. We managed to climb down the side of the building,” she said.
”People were dancing and all of a sudden the dance floor collapsed, and all the tables around it fell through,” Rami Mordechai, who was at the wedding, told Israel television.
The center of the top floor collapsed suddenly, witnesses said. The concrete structure crashed through the floors below, leaving a gaping, three-story hole with metal reinforcement cables hanging at twisted angles from the sides.
After the collapse, the front of the hall was eerily intact, with the name of the wedding hall still illuminated in large, blue letters.
Victims pulled from the rubble were lined up on stretchers awaiting ambulances to take them to hospitals. Many appeared unconscious, and most were bleeding.
Relatives, some covered with blood, gathered in front of Jerusalem hospitals, desperately seeking updated reports on their injured loved ones. Others said they helped pull people out of the wreckage before they were taken to the hospitals themselves. Hospital doctors said there were many children among the injured, including a 3-month-old baby.
The bride was taken to Bikur Holim hospital in downtown Jerusalem, where a doctor said she was apparently not seriously injured.
Jerusalem police have been on alert for bomb attacks by extremist Palestinians during eight months of Israel-Palestinian violence. Earlier Thursday, Tel Aviv police closed off the central bus station in Tel Aviv for five hours, after reports that Palestinians were planning a bomb attack there.
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