South African Church Wall Caves In, Killing at Least 13

South African Church Wall Caves In, Killing at Least 13

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — A church building in eastern South Africa partially collapsed at the start of the Easter weekend, killing at least 13 people and injuring 16, during heavy rainfall that caused flooding, power outages and structural damage.

A wall caved in at the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Dlangubo, a small village in KwaZulu-Natal province, shortly after 10 p.m. on Thursday, according to Robert McKenzie, a spokesman for the province’s emergency medical services department.

“There was an electrical storm in the area and it might have contributed,” Mr. McKenzie said of the disaster, which took place three days after a devastating fire ripped through the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris and caused extensive damage to one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

Some of the victims in South Africa had traveled 60 miles to attend services at the church and were staying overnight, said Thembeka Mbele, a police spokeswoman.

Photographs shared on Twitter show a cavernous, if otherwise nondescript, A-frame building with an entire side missing and bricks strewn across the floor. Storm-related damage was reported across the province, where strong winds ripped the roofs off homes and restaurants, emergency personnel said.

Personal belongings were found up to 200 meters away from people’s homes because of the strong winds, said Paul Herbst of IPSS Medical Rescue, a private ambulance service in the region.

The families of the victims were “absolutely devastated,” said Thulasizwe Buthelezi, the mayor of Zululand, in an interview with the South African Broadcasting Service. Two of the victims had worked for the local municipality, he said, including the mother of a child younger than five years old.

A spokesman for Willies Mchunu, the premier of KwaZulu-Natal province, told reporters that the deaths were “unnecessary” and “could have been avoided,” although he did not elaborate, in calling for an investigation into the accident. Officials visited the site on Friday morning but could not be reached for comment.

In a statement, the governing African National Congress sent condolences and called on South Africans to “pray for the families to have strength.” President Cyril Ramaphosa has visited the church on several occasions, most recently last year.

The Easter weekend is an important holiday in South Africa, with many black families traveling home from cities to their rural homesteads. More than 80 percent of South Africans identify as Christian, according to the national statistics bureau.

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