Twelve people are dead and dozens more are injured after a huge 200-year-old oak tree fell at a religious festival on the Portuguese island of Madeira.
Two children are believed to be among the dead after the tree crushed revellers who were gathered outside a church on the hills of Monte, overlooking the capital Funchal.
Fifty-two people were injured in the tragedy – including a baby in a pram next to their mum – as horrific footage showed the tree falling and worshippers screaming in terror and running for their lives.
The tragedy happened during a two-day Christian festival called the Festa da Senhora do Monte which brings in thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Authorities had reportedly been warned three years ago that the tree was fragile and posed a danger, and it had apparently been tied up in a bid to stop it from falling.
Witnesses described scenes of panic as bystanders tried to rescue the victims and provide first aid before emergency services arrived.
One witness told Portuguese TV station SIC: “It felt like gunshots at first. We just saw people trying to run away, jumping on top of others, and then the tree fell and I saw six people already lying motionless on the ground.
“It was something that will mark me for the rest of my life. I only had time to run with all the panic.
“Some people were hit by others. It was terrible.”
The tree came down at about 12pm local time on Tuesday in a crowded area where candles were being sold.
The local, who was not named, added: “The procession was leaving the church and a lot of people were at the spot where the tree fell buying candles to follow the procession.
“I would say hundreds of people were there.”
Several people were taken to the island’s Nelio Mendonca Hospital with “fractures and head injuries”.
Four were said to be in serious condition.
One local reporter said he had counted six bodies at the scene of the tragedy. A reporter for RTP said he saw the bodies of two children.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa offered his condolences and said medical support had been made available for the “high number of victims”.
Madeira’s Red Cross president Rui Nunes said in the aftermath: “The tree that came down is part of a group of trees that are more than two centuries old and are visited by people from the island, as well as holidaymakers and other visitors to Madeira.”
The oak tree was 200 years old, and authorities had been notified in 2014 that it could pose a danger to people and property, Madeira Island News reported.
Witnesses told RTP that the hollow tree was “ancient” and had been tied up for at least two years in a bid to secure it.
They expressed anger and questioned why the regional government hadn’t removed it following warnings.
They were waiting for a traditional procession which forms part of the festival.
The procession was cancelled following the incident.
Festa da Senhora do Monte is the biggest and most popular Christian festival on the Atlantic island, drawing dignitaries and other important figures.
Held every August 14-15, the festival is held in honour of Nossa Senhora do Monte, the patron saint of Madeira.
Every year, Monte is decorated with traditional festoons and colourful flowers, vendors sell traditional food and drink, and there is entertainment in the streets during a party that lasts late into the night of August 14.
The procession is held the following morning on August 15.
Last year’s celebration was cancelled due to deadly forest fires.
Madeira draws thousands of British holidaymakers every year and is famous for being the home of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.
Source : msn