Falling oak tree kills religious festivalgoers on Madeira

At least 12 people have been killed after a 200-year-old oak tree fell into a crowd at a religious festival on the Portuguese island of Madeira.

A government official said 52 others were injured when the tree fell outside a church in the hills above the capital of Funchal on Tuesday.

The accident happened during a Roman Catholic festival marking the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven. The festival is called the Celebration of Our Lady of the Mount, the Atlantic island’s biggest annual religious festival, which draws large crowds.

An amateur video posted on the website of the local newspaper Jornal da Madeira shows the tree crashing down into a crowd of people.

“It was terrible, it was so sudden,” a witness told SIC television. TV reports showed fire and rescue services working to help victims and cutting away the fallen tree.

The regional health chief, Pedro Ramos, said seven people were seriously injured, and that of the 12 fatalities, 10 died at the scene. A child died en route to a local hospital, where another woman also died.

Miguel Albuquerque, the head of the regional government of Madeira, declared three days of mourning for the victims.

Portugal’s prime minister, Antonio Costa, tweeted: “I express my condolences for the victims of the accident in Madeira.” He said his thoughts were with the families and friends of the victims.

Costa said the government had made contact with local authorities on the island to offer its support. “The government has provided medical support given the high number of victims,” he said.

Madeira, a popular tourist destination, is the largest of several Portuguese islands in the north Atlantic Ocean. It has a population of more than 250,000, the vast majority of whom are Catholic.

Last year the Assumption Day festival, which takes place in botanical gardens three miles from central Funchal, was cancelled because of forest fires.

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