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3 Die in Jerusalem Building Collapse

May 24, 2001

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JERUSALEM (AP) _ A three-story wedding hall collapsed Thursday night in Jerusalem, killing at least three people and injuring more than 200 others. Police said it appeared to be an accident, not a terror attack.

Dozens were rushed to hospitals and dozens more remained trapped under huge concrete slabs and metal wreckage. About 700 people were dancing at a wedding at the Versailles wedding hall when the building collapsed, Israel radio said.

``It’s still not clear exactly and we don’t know what caused the collapse in the hall, but we don’t think it was a terrorist act,″ Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby told army radio.

Jerusalem police commander Miki Levy said the collapse was due to a ``structural failure.″ Eyewitnesses interviewed by Israeli radio stations did not talk of an explosion.

Rescue worker Haggai Lavie said at least three bodies were removed from the wreckage, and many others were trapped in the wreckage.

``People are trapped under the rubble, people are dying here,″ an unidentified eyewitness told Israel radio as he broke into tears.

Meir Harel, a fire department official, said rescue services were not set up for a disaster of this scope.

Israel radio reported that a convoy of ambulances was heading to Jerusalem from other parts of the country, and broadcast appeals to Jerusalem hospital employees to report to their workplaces immediately.

The wedding was taking place on the top floor of the building, and the other two floors were not being used, according to radio reports.

``People were dancing and all of a sudden the dance floor collapsed, and all the tables around it fell through,″ Rami Mordechai, who was at the wedding, told Israel television.

The center of the top floor collapsed suddenly, witnesses said. The concrete structure crashed through the floors below, leaving a gaping, three-story hole with metal reinforcement cables hanging at twisted angles from the sides.

Rescue workers arrived in minutes. Victims pulled from the rubble were lined up on stretchers awaiting ambulances to take them to hospitals. Many appeared unconscious, and most were bleeding.

Jerusalem police have been on alert for bomb attacks by extremist Palestinians during eight months of Israel-Palestinian violence. Earlier Thursday, Tel Aviv police closed off the central bus station in Tel Aviv for five hours, after reports that Palestinians were planning a bomb attack there.

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