Ethiopian Stone Church Collapse Kills 15

( [email protected] ) Jan 05, 2004 11:41 AM EST

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Fifteen of the 500 worshippers in an Ethiopian church died when the roof of the centuries-old structure collapsed, police reported Saturday, Dec. 3. The accident occurred last Monday in a remote area some 310 miles northeast of the capital, Addis Ababa.

The worshippers in the Mewa Tsadkan Gabriel Church were celebrating St. Gabriel’s feast, an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian festival when the 800 year old church caved in. Police spokesman Aleble Kassie said 20 others were rescued, but sustained serious or minor injuries. Kassie also said the death toll could increase.

Tarekenge Emajnue, information officer for the Gondar region, said most of the worshippers who attended the festival had been outside the church when the roof fell in.

The church was one of the earliest to be built by King Lalibela, who ruled the Horn of Africa nation from the late 12th century to the early 13th century. There are dozens of such rock-hewn churches carved into stone hundreds of years ago in Ethiopia.