Falling tree kills 12 on Portuguese island of Madeira

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A falling tree has killed at least 12 people and injured 52 more at a religious ceremony on the Portuguese island of Madeira.

A video shows the tree crashing down on a crowded square in a suburb of the main town, Funchal, spreading panic among people enjoying the festivities.

Two children are reported to have been killed, and some of the injured are said to be foreign nationals.

Reports suggest the tree which fell was an oak that was about 200 years old.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa has offered his condolences to the victims of the disaster, and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is expected to arrive on Madeira later on Tuesday.

Madeira, a popular destination for European tourists, is the largest of a group of Portuguese islands in the north Atlantic Ocean, south-west of the Portuguese mainland.

People had gathered outside a church in a village in the hills overlooking the town to celebrate the Roman Catholic Feast of the Assumption, which takes place on Tuesday and is a public holiday. The Lady of the Mount festival is the island’s biggest.

The tree came down just after midday (10:00 GMT) on Fountain Square, which has a Catholic shrine and other monuments, and is shaded by plane trees, according to the Funchal town website.

“It was terrible, it was so sudden,” an eyewitness was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

Emergency services flooded the area after the disaster, tending to the injured.

Pedro Ramos, health secretary of the local government of Madeira, said the injured included German, Hungarian and French citizens, the Portuguese news site Publico reports.

Witnesses quoted by Portuguese broadcaster RTP say the tree that fell had been shored up for at least two years because the trunk was hollow.

This year’s festival would have been all the more special because, Portuguese news site Publico notes, last year’s event had to be cancelled due to forest fires.

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