Falling tree kills 13 at Portugal religious festival

The area affected by a fallen tree that killed 11 people in Funchal on Aug 15, 2017.
The area affected by a fallen tree that killed 11 people in Funchal on Aug 15, 2017. PHOTO: AFP
The Police tape secure the site where a large tree fell and injured several people in Largo da Fonte, on Aug 15, 2017.
The Police tape secure the site where a large tree fell and injured several people in Largo da Fonte, on Aug 15, 2017. PHOTO: EPA
Firemen and emergency workers secure the site where a large tree fell and injured several people in Largo da Fonte, on Aug 15, 2017.
Firemen and emergency workers secure the site where a large tree fell and injured several people in Largo da Fonte, on Aug 15, 2017. PHOTO: EPA
Some people help injured persons on the ground after a tree had fallen in Funchal on Aug 15, 2017.
Some people help injured persons on the ground after a tree had fallen in Funchal on Aug 15, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

MADEIRA (Portugal) • A 200-year-old tree crashed to the ground in Portugal this week, killing 13 people and injuring 49 others who had gathered near the towering oak for a religious celebration.

At least six of the wounded were seriously hurt when the tree fell near the city of Funchal on Tuesday, according to government officials.

There were at least four foreigners of various European nationalities among the injured, the officials said. At least one of the dead was a child.

The local authorities said it was not clear what had caused the tree to collapse.

"The tree was never earmarked as being in danger of falling," Mayor Paulo Cafofo of Funchal told reporters at a news conference, The New York Times reported.

The oak tree toppled at around noon local time, striking people who had gathered for the religious festival on the Roman Catholic Feast of the Assumption.

A grainy video recording of the accident posted online appears to show the tree thudding on the ground as hymnal music plays in the background. Many people initially ran screaming from the scene, but some eventually regrouped around the area where the tree fell.


Firefighters covering victims of the tragedy in Funchal, Portugal, where a 200-year-old oak tree toppled onto people marking a religious festival on Tuesday, killing 13 and injuring 49 others. PHOTO: REUTERS

One photograph from the scene showed people gathered around a person lying flat on the ground. Other images showed emergency personnel taking a victim away on a stretcher and shrouding someone or something with white linen.

"There was a big panic," a witness, Mr Domingos Perestrelo, told a local television station, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.

"It happened in the middle of mass, around a half- hour before the start of the procession. There were a lot of people there."

In a statement on his website, Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said he would travel to Funchal, the capital of the country's Madeira Islands, to learn more about what had happened and offer "a word of encouragement and comfort" to those who had lost loved ones.

Mr Miguel Albuquerque, a regional government official, declared that there would be three days of mourning for the victims, according to The Associated Press.

A similar incident happened at the Singapore Botanic Gardens in February, when a 40m-tall tembusu tree decaying below ground level fell and killed an Indian national. The tree was found to be healthy during its last inspection in September last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'Falling tree kills 13 at Portugal religious festival'. Print Edition | Subscribe