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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Church collapse in Mexico kills 11 during collective baptism

A church roof fell in Ciudad Madero on Mexico’s Gulf Coast as dozens of parishioners were at Sunday Mass.

By Emiliano Rodríguez Mega and Simon Romero

Rescuers in northern Mexico recovered the bodies of 10 people who died after the roof of a Roman Catholic church collapsed during Sunday Mass in Ciudad Madero, an oil-refining city on the Gulf of Mexico. Among the youngest victims were three children, including a 1 1/2-year-old boy.

The roof collapsed during a collective baptism, according to the Diocese of Tampico. About 60 people were injured, and more than 23 of them were hospitalized Monday morning, the Tamaulipas state security spokesperson’s office said. One of those hospitalized died later Monday, the spokesperson said.

About 100 people were inside the Santa Cruz church at the time of the collapse, officials said.

“I felt I would not be able to see my beautiful family again,” Josefina Ramírez, a survivor, said in a post on Facebook describing the moments after the roof caved in while she was attending her goddaughter’s baptism. “I cannot explain how we got out.” Ramírez later told The New York Times that her 3-year-old goddaughter and the rest of her relatives survived the roof’s collapse.

In the moments after it gave way, survivors used chairs to break windows in desperate efforts to get outside as some screamed that children were still trapped inside, according to local news reports.

Among the victims were family members of Oziel Rocha. His cousin Briana Yamile Rodríguez, 27, and her husband — two surgeons from Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas — had gone to the ceremony with their 8-year-old son, Mauricio. The three died instantly after the roof collapsed, said Rocha, who identified their bodies.

“She was a great woman, she was a great doctor, she was a great mom,” he said of his cousin.

Rodríguez’s sister Vanessa, 18, was one of those rescued from under the rubble. She was taken to a nearby hospital and underwent spinal surgery but died shortly after. “She came out of surgery and passed away,” Rocha said.

By Monday morning, the rescue work had concluded and no more casualties were expected, said Jorge Cuéllar, the Tamaulipas security spokesperson, in an interview.

“I’m a faithful believer that we all die at the time that God decides,” the Rev. Ángel Vargas, the priest who was delivering mass at the time that the roof collapsed, said in televised comments. “Some are now gone and others of us remain,” he added. “Those who are gone, rest in peace. Those who remain, we’ll surely suffer the rest of our lives.”

It was not immediately clear why the church’s roof collapsed.

“Experts are going to come in to determine the reasons this unfortunate accident occurred,” Cuéllar said. “One can infer that it is because of lack of maintenance. However, what is important and official is the report to be made by the experts.”

Onlookers gathered around the site early Monday to pray as rescue workers using dogs, thermal-sensing equipment and saws to cut through debris worked intently to find possible survivors. In addition to the Red Cross, public agencies, including the state police, state civil defense office and the National Guard were involved in the rescue operation.

“My solidarity with all the families who have lost their loved ones and with the community for this unfortunate accident,” Tamaulipas Gov. Américo Villareal said on social media. Tamaulipas security and civil protection agencies, he added, have sent officials to help rescue survivors, retrieve bodies and remove debris from the area.

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