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The BBC's Stephen Gibbs
"The search continues for those survivors underneath the rubble"
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The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Many were dancing when the ground gave way beneath them"
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The BBC's Gerorge Eykyn
"Jerusalem's emergency services are struggling to cope"
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Bikur Holim hospital spokesman Alex Farkhash
"The bride will need to undergo orthopaedic surgery"
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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 02:10 GMT 03:10 UK
Death toll mounts in Jerusalem collapse
Rescuers fear hundreds are still trapped under the debris
Rescuers have been grappling at the debris with their bare hands
At least 25 people have been killed and another 300 injured after a reception hall in Jerusalem collapsed during a wedding celebration.

But rescuers believe about 50 are still trapped in the rubble and could it could take days to reach them.

Up to 1,000 people were celebrating on the top floor of the three-storey building when the ceiling gave way, sending people, tables and chairs plunging through the second floor to the ground, witnesses said.

A police spokesman said the incident did not appear to have been caused by a bomb or an explosion.

People were dancing and all of a sudden the dance floor collapsed, and all the tables around it fell through

Wedding guest Rami Mordechai
Israeli police intelligence chief David Tzuri told AFP news agency the collapse was due to an "engineering failure".

Police were questioning the owner of the hall, the engineer who designed it and others connected with the structure, Israel radio reported.

Bride surgery

By daybreak on Friday, seven hours after the disaster, 21 bodies had been recovered from the rubble.

Rescuers have been grappling at the debris with their bare hands
Many of the injured are lying on the ground outside
Israel television, quoting military rescue team officers at the scene, said the death toll would reach at least 25

Major General Gabi Ofir, in charge of the rescue operation, said 309 people were taken to hospitals, and about 50 people were still unaccounted for.

It could take up to three days to rescue all the people trapped, say emergency services.

Among those injured were the bride, who suffered hip and chest injuries and might need surgery and the groom who was treated for minor injuries.

'Floor opened up'

BBC correspondent Orla Guerin described the scene as one of widespread devastation, with rescue workers grappling at the debris with bare hands.

The special Israeli army rescue unit that has been sent abroad in the past to dig out earthquake victims was working at the scene.

People pulled victims from the rubble before being taken to hospital themselves
Soldiers with yellow helmets, some with flashlights, dug through the wreckage, sometimes by hand, trying to reach trapped victims.

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

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

"We felt the whole building collapse, everything fell down.

Groom's relative Sarah Pinhas

Another witness told Israeli television that he had seen people flying through the air.

One man described how he fell holding the hand of his 10-year-old son. He said they were both 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."

Groom's relative Sarah Pinhas, said dancers had lifted the father of the bride on a chair, a traditional part of the celebration, 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.

Ambulances at the scene in Jerusalem's Talpiot industrial park have been ferrying dozens of injured to local hospitals where relatives, desperately seeking news of their loved ones, were gathering.

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24 May 01 | Middle East
Picture gallery: Jerusalem disaster
25 May 01 | Middle East
How the tragedy unfolded
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