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Rescuers hunt wedding tragedy survivors

Injured survivors await help after being pulled from the rubble
Injured survivors await help after being pulled from the rubble  

JERUSALEM -- Around 30 people have been killed, and at least 50 are missing, after a hall collapsed onto a wedding party in Jerusalem.

More than 300 were injured when the multi-story building gave way Thursday night as guests danced.

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.

The wedding ceremony had ended and guests were dancing when the building collapsed. They plunged three stories as ceiling after ceiling buckled and crashed to the ground.

Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert told CNN the authorities estimated that around 650 people had been in the hall at the time -- of which 600 had so far been accounted for.


He said he expected the search and rescue effort to continue for three or four more days.

He said forensic investigators had found nothing inside the building to suggest the disaster was the result of a bomb or a terrorist act.

"This was a disaster -- a collapse of a building with a terrible outcome, but it was not a terrorist action," he said.

Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Rafowicz told CNN that army rescuers pulled four people alive from the rubble early in the night, "but since then only dead bodies."

He said the army rescue team was very familiar with this kind of operation, having worked in earthquakes in India and Turkey and in the U.S. embassy bombing in Kenya.

"Our people are the best people in Israel to deal with this kind of terrible incident, he added.

The injured bride and groom, Keren and Assaf Dror, were in hospital in adjacent beds, the groom's father said. A doctor said the bride suffered pelvic injuries and the groom was only slightly hurt.

The wedding car, with wilting garlands of roses, stood undamaged outside the hall.

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

She added: "Then we felt the whole building collapse, everything fell down. We managed to climb down the side of the building."

One man described how he fell holding the hand of his 10-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 evacuate occupants from the scene
Rescue workers evacuate occupants from the scene  

"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.

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."

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.

CNN's Ben Wedeman said police were questioning the owner of the building, the engineer who designed the building, as well as the contractors who built it.

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."

On Thursday following the collapse, Israeli Radio broadcast appeals to hospital workers in Jerusalem to come to work immediately to cope with the emergency and for all ambulances in the country to report to the scene.

Convoys of ambulances were driving into Jerusalem, their sirens blaring through the streets. Survivors covered in blood were taken away on stretchers.

People attend to the injured after the building's collapsed
People attend to the injured after the building's collapse  

Rescue workers and dog handlers combed through the rubble with their hands, as the building was too unstable to bring in heavy equipment. There are fears that other parts of the building may also collapse.

Firefighters who arrived at the scene first used wedding tables as makeshift stretchers to evacuate the injured.

Daylight showed a gaping hole in the centre of the building gouged by the dance floor as it plunged to the ground.

A specially decorated chair where the bride had sat to welcome her guests perched precariously on the lip of the crater. Candles still blazed on a table that had not fallen.

• The Jerusalem WebSite

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