The roof of a church collapsed during a mass in northern Mexico on Sunday, killing at least nine people and injuring around 50, authorities said, as searchers searched the rubble late into the night for survivors and other victims.
About 30 community members were believed to have been trapped in the rubble when the roof collapsed, officials said. Searchers crawled under the roof panels and officials brought dogs to help find possible survivors.
According to the Tamaulipas State Police, there were about 100 people in the church at the time of the collapse.
The State Security spokesman’s office said late Sunday that nine people had died in the collapse, which was believed to be due to “a structural failure.”
The Tamaulipas State Police said that units of the National Guard, the State Police and the State Civil Defense Office, as well as the Red Cross were involved in the operation.
The Mexican Bishops’ Council issued a statement saying: “We pray together in light of the tragic loss of life and injuries.”
Bishop José Armando Alvarez of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tampico said the roof collapsed while parishioners were receiving communion at Santa Cruz church in the Gulf coast city of Ciudad Madero, next to the port city of Tampico.
The diocese later released a list of about 50 people hospitalized as a result of the accident. They included a four-month-old baby, three five-year-olds and two nine-year-olds.
There was no immediate information about her condition.
The number of young victims – police said three of the dead were children – could be due to the fact that baptisms were scheduled to take place in the church.
“We mourn the painful loss of the people who were there celebrating the baptism of their children,” Alvarez wrote.
At the same time there were signs of hope.
“Thanks to Divine Providence and the work of the rescue teams, people were brought out of the rubble alive!” The Diocese of Alvarez wrote in a statement published on its social media accounts. “Let’s keep praying!”
He also asked anyone who could donate wood to bring it to the church, apparently to shore up the roof while rescue teams crawled inside.
Photos published by local media showed what appeared to be a concrete and brick structure, with parts of the roof falling almost to the ground.
Security camera footage from about a block away showed that the unusual gable roof simply collapsed.
The walls did not appear to have been blown outward, nor was there any evidence of an explosion or anything other than simple structural failure.
The roof appeared to be made of relatively thin cast concrete, and photos distributed by state authorities showed the roof panel resting on the pews in some parts of the church.
That left open the possibility that there was air space for survivors.
“The necessary work is currently being carried out to get out the people who are still under the ruble,” Alvarez said in a recorded message. “Today we are living through a very difficult moment.”
A video distributed by the State Office for Civil Protection showed the outer edges of the roof supported with short wooden blocks.
There were also initial attempts to use a crane to lift parts of the collapsed roof closer to the ground, in the middle of the church.
However, the office said attempts to lift sections of the roof had been abandoned because of the risk that part of the now-crumbling slab could fall back and endanger survivors.
The video described how officials had resorted to manual rescue efforts, apparently sending rescuers under the slab with wooden supports or hydraulic jacks to reach those trapped beneath.
Specially trained dogs were also sent into the rubble to track down survivors.
The Civil Defense Office said the dogs initially appeared to have detected no signs of survivors, so an older method that had been used in previous earthquakes was used: rescue teams were sent into the rubble to scream and listen for signs of a reaction.
Building collapses are common in Mexico during earthquakes, but the National Seismological Service did not report seismic activity strong enough to cause such damage at the time of the collapse.
There were also no immediate signs of an explosion.
Ciudad Madero is approximately 310 miles south of Brownsville, Texas.
Tamaulipas is known for violence from drug cartels, but Ciudad Madero is in the southern part of the state near neighboring Veracruz state and has been less affected by the violence.