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Monday, 28 May, 2001, 21:16 GMT 22:16 UK
Wedding survivors recall night of horror
Four days after a wedding hall in Jerusalem collapsed killing 23 guests, the bride and groom and their families are struggling not only with their physical wounds and grief but also with terrible guilt.
Alisa Dror, the mother of the groom, is receiving treatment at Sha'are Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, for a crushed leg. She was not able to attend the funerals of her father, her brother, her brother-in-law, her sister-in-law and two of her sister-in-law's sons.
"I feel guilty," she was quoted as saying by the Israeli daily, Ma'ariv. "Both my son and I are suffering terrible guilt. After all, this was a place we hired for the occasion. How will we look them [the guests] in the eyes? We've ruined their families."
After the crash, Assaf and Keren were taken to the Bikur Holim hospital in Jerusalem. Assaf, who was only slightly injured, wandered from ward to ward where guests were being treated and apologised to them.
Friends and relatives who visited Keren, who had suffered serious pelvic injuries and was recovering from surgery, said she had apologised to them, too.
They planned the wedding for six months.
Safer than Beit Jala
"We looked for a large wedding hall, one that would contain all of the guests," said Assaf's mother, Alisa. "At first we thought of Ramat Rachel [a kibbutz on the outskirts of Jerusalem] but we were concerned about the proximity to Beit Jala, so we ended up choosing the Versailles Hall, because it wasn't dangerous."
Beit Jala has seen some of the worst of eight months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
The eldest among those killed was Yosef Shriki, the 80-year-old grandfather of the groom, and the clan's patriarch. The youngest victim was a three-year-old second cousin of the groom.
As 23 funerals took place over the weekend, stories unfolded of those who had miraculously cheated death.
Rotem Shriki, a cousin of the groom, was relatively lucky. He celebrated his sixth birthday on Friday in a children's surgery ward after breaking his jaw and hurting a leg.
Bat-Sheva Shriki, the groom's aunt, who had travelled from Holland for the wedding, was catching up with cousins when suddenly, "the floor just opened up and swallowed me".
"I felt a little girl hanging onto my neck," she told the news website, Ynet. "Only later did I realise that it was my cousin's daughter. The fall was long, and I was sure that was it, that I was going to die.
"I had to get out of there, because I was afraid everything would collapse on top of me. I grabbed the girl and found my mother, and we crawled out to where the rescue teams were.
"I knew my brother Nissim, was in there, but because of his name [which means miracles in Hebrew], I believed he would be okay, and that he and my father would be found alive. But suddenly the house is filled with mourners. If I hadn't made it to the wedding, and had seen all this on TV in Holland, I would never have been able to forgive myself."
Kisses of joy
Michael Shukrun, who could be seen in the video of the fateful accident, dancing with his little daughter, Re'ut, is recovering in the Sha'are Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem.
"I took my girl to the dance floor and suddenly I felt myself falling. Within less than a second I hit the ground, and Re'ut just flew out of my arms. I started looking for her like crazy. After a few seconds I heard her cry. It was a God-sent cry right next to me.
"I felt around in the dark until I found her. I was so scared that something had happened to her - I remember hugging and kissing her, covering her in blood from my wounds. In the paper it looked like she had been wounded, but the blood was only from my kisses of joy."
"I was on the dance floor, and relatives were lifting my son and me in the air in our chairs - it was great. Then I wanted him to dance next to me, but he insisted on being held in my arms. Suddenly the floor just opened up, and the boy nearly fell out of my hands.
"I grabbed him by his hair and by his shirt. By the time we landed, everything was dark and full of dust. My son survived. An ambulance took us to the hospital," Mr Dror was quoted by Ynet as saying.
His father-in-law was killed in the disaster.
Jerusalem police have arrested nine people in connection with the disaster: the four owners of the banquet hall, the building and renovation contractors, the building engineer, and the manufacturer of the flooring used in the hall.
The moment the floor collapsed
28 May 01 | Middle East
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26 May 01 | Middle East
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