Christian festival in Madeira turns deadly after rotting oak tree falls

A Christian festival on the island of Madeira in Portugal took a deadly turn after an oak tree fell and hit a crowd of worshippers preparing for a procession, leaving 12 people dead and 50 others injured, according to local officials.

(REUTERS / Duarte Sa)Firefighters cover victims of a tree that toppled into worshipping crowds during a religious festival in Funchal, Portugal, August 15, 2017.

On Aug. 15, worshippers gathered near a shrine above Madeira's capital Funchal in preparation for the procession in honor of their patron saint Our Lady of the Mount. Local health secretary Pedro Ramos said the falling tree killed 10 people instantly while two others died upon arrival at the hospital. A number of those injured were from Germany and France, Reuters relayed.

Based on an amateur video posted on local paper Jornal de Madeira, people ran when the huge oak tree crashed down. Fire and rescue staff were also spotted cutting away the tree to help the victims in the accident. Local media said the fallen tree was already rotten and a metal cable was just used to prop it up.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa released a statement expressing solidarity with the people of Madeira in light of the recent tragedy. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa reportedly went to the island to comfort the victims.

Pope Francis also expressed his grief over the tragedy on the Portuguese island. The pontiff sent a telegram to Bishop Jose Carrilho of Funchal signed by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin to convey his condolences to the victims, the Vatican Radio reported.

In his telegram to Bishop Carrilho, Pope Francis described the oak tree accident as "misfortunate" and lamented the loss of lives at the Our Lady of the Mount Parish. He also committed the souls of the victims to God.

The feast of Our Lady of the Mount, which is the biggest annual Roman Catholic festival in Madeira, celebrates the Virgin Mary's Assumption into heaven. Aug. 15 in Portugal is a public holiday.