AT LEAST 13 people have been killed, including two children, and dozens more have been injured after a tree collapsed during a Christian festival on the Portuguese island of Madeira, on Tuesday.
Crowds had gathered outside a Roman Catholic church, Lady of Mount, in Fountain Square, near the city of Funchal, to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption, when an oak tree crashed down in a cloud of dust and debris, just after noon.
Officials reported on Wednesday that 51 people had been injured in the incident, seven of whom were still in hospital when the Church Times went to press. A baby in a pram was among the victims; others had been selling devotional candles outside the church. An eyewitness told Reuters: “It was so sudden.”
Police, firefighters, and British Red Cross workers were quickly on the scene. The injured were taken to Dr Nélio Mendonça Hospital in Funchal. A woman and child were reported to have died on the journey, despite road closures imposed to clear the way for ambulances.
Mobile-phone footage has since emerged of the tragedy. The square, which contains a shrine and other monuments, is shaded by several large trees. Local media reported that the parish council had written to the local government of Madeira three times asking for the trees to be pruned.
The 200-year-old oak tree that fell was reported to be hollow, and in a poor condition. In one letter to the government, the council wrote: “We remain concerned about the safety of citizens and the large number of tourists who visit us daily.”
The Prime Minister of Portugal, António Costa, offered his condolences to the victims, on Tuesday. The President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who travelled to Madeira the same evening, said that the disaster would be investigated by the regional government.
The Virgin Mary is the patron saint of the island. The planned procession and mass were cancelled out of respect for the victims.