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23 Hurt in Collapse at Fla. Church

November 8, 1999

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) _ Part of the concrete roof of a 72-foot-long covered walkway collapsed as churchgoers socialized after services, injuring 23 people.

Dozens of people on and near the walkway had been sharing doughnuts and coffee at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church on Sunday when the structure came down.

``A couple of people were able to run off to the side. Others that didn’t see it or got caught by surprise or couldn’t move fast enough got caught underneath,″ said fire spokesman Alan Harris.

Eleven people were taken to hospitals by ambulance, and six of those were considered to be in serious condition, officials said. The rest either went to hospitals on their own or were treated at the scene.

Two people were heavily covered by debris from the 12-foot-wide walkway roof, estimated to be about 10 years old. The most serious injures included a woman with a hip fracture and a woman who suffered a spinal injury.

The walkway links the church to the parish offices. Churchgoers must pass under it to get to the parking lot.

``I heard the crash, looked out the window, saw everybody running, but I didn’t know what it was all about,″ said Sister Rita Galligan, who heard it from her home at the convent next door. ``There was no wind, no rain, no bump, no nothing. It just happened.″

Along the walkway a 3-foot pile of debris, including crumpled metal mesh and pieces of shattered concrete, was strewn about 40 feet. The roof is made of drywall and metal mesh with a stucco finish.

The city building inspector blamed the collapse on a nail that dislodged from a rotten wooden beam supporting the roof, Harris said.

``The nail that held the mesh to the beam fell out and, by the pure weight of it, started a domino effect that brought the whole thing down,″ said Harris. The beams and supporting columns remained standing.

The church, located eight miles north of Orlando, seats about 1,000 people. There are about 10,000 parishioners.

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