Deaths in Hall Collapse in Jerusalem

ByABC News

J E R U S A L E M, May 25, 2001 -- It was supposed to be the happiest day of Assi and Keren Dror's lives. Instead, a joyous wedding celebration in West Jerusalem turned into a tragic affair when a wedding hall caved in, killing at least 25 people, and injuring over 300 others.

Police said it appeared to be an accident, not a terror attack.

Jerusalem police commander Miki Levy said the collapse was due to a "structural failure," or "some sort of engineering, technical connection in the building." Eyewitnesses interviewed by Israeli radio stations did not mention an explosion.

As of early this morning, 19 bodies were recovered from the rubble.

At least 650 people had been celebrating on the top floor at the Versailles wedding hall in Jerusalem's Talpiot industrial park when what appeared to be one of the biggest disasters to hit Jerusalem in decades, struck.

Assi suffered minor injuries, but Keren may need surgery, after sustaining hip and chest injuries.

It was the only event taking place in the building at the time.

Into the Garage

Survivors told Israeli media outlets that most of the victims had been on the dance floor at the time. Those nearby saw the ground collapse and their fellow guests fall from the third floor, past the ground floor, and into the garage.

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

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

Hospital doctors told The Associated Press there were many children among the injured.

Panicked Scene

Survivors stumbled around the building covered in dust and blood, some weeping, some screaming, as rescue workers scrambled to pull chunks of concrete away from the scene of carnage.

Dozens of victims were lined up on stretchers, some with their limbs twisted at awkward angles. Many appeared unconscious, and most were bleeding. One eyewitness told Israeli radio, "people are trapped under the rubble, people are dying here," before collapsing in tears.

Meanwhile, ambulances from across the nation raced to scene, some from as far away as Tel Aviv, 35 miles away. Local officials said their services were not equipped for a disaster of this scope, even though emergency roomshave procedures in place for large terror attacks.

Media reports said authorities had called upon Jerusalem's entire ambulance capacity.

Broadcast outlets also appealed to hospital workers to return to work immediately, and for citizens to donate blood. Police also called upon wedding guests who left the scene to call, so that they could determine who was missing.

ABCNEWS' Daphna Veniyige in Jerusalem contributed to this report.