Rescue teams advance in removing debris from a collapsed church in northern Mexico

By Agencies
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Rescue teams were removing the rubble of a church on Monday in search of other possible victims of the collapse that left 11 dead and several dozen injured, many of whom are still hospitalized in health centers in the northern state of Tamaulipas.

It is believed that approximately more than 60 parishioners, many of them elderly and children, were trapped in the remains of the church roof that collapsed on Sunday afternoon amid the celebrations of several baptisms.

Since the morning, the removal of debris began in the Santa Cruz church in Ciudad Madero, which was destroyed after the collapse of the roof, Luis González, coordinator of Civil Protection of Tamaulipas.

So far the authorities do not know what caused the collapse, which is being investigated by the state Attorney General’s Office, González said.

The official confirmed the death of an 18-year-old girl who was taken to a health center the day before after being injured, bringing the death toll to 11. About 20 injured people still remain hospitalized.

“It was an implosion, like when you crush a can. It just fell on top. There was no time for anything… we couldn’t understand what happened,” the vicar priest of the church, Pablo Galván, recounting that she managed to save herself because she was in the parking lot when the collapse occurred.

The Conference of the Mexican Episcopate issued a statement in which it said: “we join in prayer in the face of the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered by several faithful.”

The church is located next to the city of Tampico, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Diocese of Tampico published a list of people who had been injured and that includes a 4-month-old baby, three 5-year-old children and two others aged 9. There is no information on their condition.

The high number of minors among the victims — police officers said three of the dead were children — could be due to the fact that baptisms were to be held at the temple.

“With hope we share that under the rubble, thanks to Divine Providence and the work of the rescue forces, people have come out alive,” the diocese wrote in a message published on social networks. “Let us continue in prayer.”

He also asked anyone with wooden beams to bring them to the church, apparently to prop up the remains of the roof while rescuers crawl under it.

Photographs published by local media showed a concrete and brick structure with parts of the roof that had fallen almost to the ground. Footage captured by a security camera a block away revealed that the roof simply collapsed.

The walls do not appear to have given way outwards and there were no signs of an explosion or anything beyond structural failure.

The roof seemed to be made of relatively thin concrete. In photos distributed by state authorities it could be seen that he was lying on benches in some parts of the temple, which leaves open the possibility that there are gaps in which there may be survivors.

“At this time, the necessary work is being done to remove the people who are still under the rubble,” declared Bishop José Armando Álvarez, of the diocese of Tampico, in a recorded message. “Today we are living a very difficult time.”

A video released by the state Civil Protection office showed the outer edges of the roof supported by small blocks of wood and the initial work to lift the remains with a crane. But the agency said attempts to lift some sections were shelved because of the risk that a piece of slab could fall again and endanger any survivors.

The video detailed the way in which authorities have resumed manual labor, sending rescuers under the rubble with wooden props or hydraulic jacks to reach those who are trapped. Trained dogs were also sent to detect survivors.

In Mexico there have been building collapses during earthquakes, but the National Seismological Service did not report any seismic activity strong enough to cause such damage at the time of the collapse.

Ciudad Madero is located about 500 kilometers south of Brownsville, Texas. In Tamaulipas there are often acts of violence related to drug trafficking, but Ciudad Madero is in the southern part of the state and has been less affected by violence.