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Amateur video shows wedding horror

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Amateur video footage has been released showing the moment when a building collapsed during a wedding banquet in Jerusalem, killing at least 25 people.

CNN's Ben Wedeman says between 10 and 20 people at the reception are still unaccounted for, and hopes are fading that rescuers will find any more survivors.

More than 300 guests and staff are injured, many seriously, after the four-storey wedding reception building collapsed late Thursday night.

The disturbing video footage taken at the reception and broadcast on CNN shows the festive occasion turn into a nightmare as the floor gives way in a cloud of dust and orange sparks.

Scores of people are seen dancing and then disappearing through the floor of the reception hall. Panicked guests scream in horror as they peer into a four-story deep pit looking for friends and loved ones.

The footage shows one man scooping up a little girl in the mayhem. One elderly man walks right up to the hole before being escorted away by a woman.

The collapse of the dance floor happened right in front of a video camera recording the event (Warning: disturbing video) (May 24)

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Guests describe moment of terror

Jerusalem's Mayor Ehud Olmert: I suspect that there were violations

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Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz: The best crew in Israel were all summoned for the rescue

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Assi and Keren Sror had just become husband and wife at the Versailles wedding hall and hundreds of guests had streamed on the dance floor.

Sara Pinhas, a relative of the groom, said dancers had just lifted the father of the groom on a chair, a traditional part of the Jewish wedding celebration, 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.

Among the injured were the newlyweds. Assi was treated for minor injuries and released. But Keren, carried out on a stretcher in her white dress, suffered hip and chest injuries and might need surgery, doctors said.

Alisa Sror, the mother of the groom, said she had just congratulated her son when the floors opened up. "The wall collapsed on them, the floor, the tables," she said from her hospital bed.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent his condolences and promised a thorough investigation.

The Palestinian Authority expressed its "deep sorrow" to the Israeli government and offered to help with the rescue work. The gesture came at a time of bitter conflict and new violence between the two sides.

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

Soldiers in yellow helmets used bulldozers, cranes and conveyer belt to pull out the larger pieces of rubble and metal shards from the cavernous hole, but the mounds of debris were so unstable they tumbled at the touch of heavy machinery.

The wedding took place on the top floor of the building, and the two floors below were not being used. Under them, the bottom floor was a parking garage.

Public Security Minister Uzi Landau said a committee of experts would be formed to investigate the cause.

The building was constructed in 1986. Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said his preliminary examination of the building file disclosed findings "that trouble me very much." He did not give details but suggested a criminal investigation may be required.

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

The Standards Institution of Israel warned that other buildings were in danger of collapse because of negligence.

Ziza Patir, head of the institute, said she believed the hall was built using a cheaper, lightweight construction method common in the 1980s that was below building standards.

The method, which uses metal plates and thinner layers of cement than standard ceilings, was barred in 1996, she said. Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert told CNN he expected the search and rescue to continue for three or four more days.

Rescue workers searched for survivors and removed bodies from the remains of the building through the night and into Friday. Seven or eight bodies were pulled from the rubble on Friday morning, CNN's Ben Wedeman reports.

Mayor Olmert told CNN the authorities estimated that around 650 people had been in the hall at the time.

The hall, which hosts other large events such as discos, is in the Talpiot industrial area in south-east Jerusalem, home to a number of nightclubs.

He said the accident was caused by "the sheer number of people inside a building not built to the highest standards." He added: "There was a lot of weight on fairly flimsy floors -- there were too many people in a building that could not hold them."

• The Jerusalem WebSite

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