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One dead, 53 hurt as Philippine church balcony collapses during mass

Catholic confessions to remain secret under Hong Kong security law: diocese
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A Catholic church balcony collapsed, killing an elderly woman and injuring 53 during a packed mass in the Philippines on Ash Wednesday, when millions of Filipinos flock to services, local disaster officials said.

One of the busiest dates on the Church calendar, the day marks the beginning of Lent in Asia’s Catholic outpost.

An 80-year-old woman expired from her chest injuries at a local hospital, Gina Ayson, civil defence chief of San Jose del Monte, near Manila, told AFP.

The 30-year-old wooden gallery of the Saint Peter the Apostle church had been weakened by termites, she said.

It gave way during mass, apparently due to the added weight, plunging churchgoers to the aisle on the ground floor below, Ayson said.

“City building officials discovered that a section of the collapsed structure was infested with termites,” she told AFP.

“It looked fine from outside. We did not know it was being eaten from the inside.”

The other victims, who were also mostly elderly, sustained bruises and other slight injuries, she said, adding about 400 people were attending mass at the time.

Mayor Arthur Robes has ordered the damaged church shut as investigators inspected the building’s structural safety, according to Ayson.

Pictures posted by Robes on his Facebook page showed part of the wooden balcony hanging less than a metre (3.3 feet) from the ground floor, which was littered with church pews, broken plastic chairs and debris.

Yellow police tape could be seen placed across the front of the building, built in 1994, while another photo showed a paramedic giving aid to a man.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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