By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan and Ferdinand Patinio

ASH WEDNESDAY MISHAP. Personnel of the San Jose del Monte City government inspect the St. Peter the Apostle Parish Church premises in Barangay Tungkong Mangga on Wednesday (Feb. 14, 2024). At least 44 churchgoers were hurt when the church’s mezzanine area collapsed during an Ash Wednesday Mass. (Photo courtesy of CSDJM Public Information Office)

MANILA – One person was killed after the mezzanine area of a Catholic church in San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan collapsed on Wednesday, authorities said.

The city’s Public Information Office (PIO), in an update, identified the fatality as 80-year-old Luneta Morales, a choir member of the St. Peter the Apostle Parish Church in the city’s Barangay Tungkong Mangga.

In a Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon interview, San Jose del Monte City Rep. Rida Robes said the number of injured persons from the incident rose to 63, from the initial 44.

The incident occurred past 7 a.m. during an Ash Wednesday Mass as the faithful queued for the smearing of ashes on their foreheads, according to the PIO.

In a radio interview, City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office chief Gina Ayson said the injured churchgoers were rushed to nearby hospitals.

“Minor (injuries) itong mga patients natin. Wala tayong naitalang patay. Critical, wala naman po. Minor bruises, tapos may mga iniinda na masakit ang balikat (Our patients only have minor injuries. We have not recorded any deaths, no one is critical, minor bruises, while some say their shoulders hurt),” Ayson said earlier.

She said Mayor Arthur Robes had proceeded to the scene to assess the situation.

The mayor has also ordered a temporary closure of the church while an assessment by the City Engineering Office and the Office of the City Building Official is underway.

Ayson said the church’s mezzanine area, which is made of wood, might have collapsed due to a high volume of churchgoers.

“Medyo may katagalan na rin ito pero na-subject ito sa renovation. Pero yung mismong loob at parang mezzanine area ng simbahan ay medyo may katagalan na rin (The church structure is somewhat old but it has undergone past renovations. The same goes for the church’s mezzanine area),” she added.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Malolos is coordinating with local authorities after the incident.

Malolos Bishop Dennis Villarojo also assured assistance for the victims.

“Unfortunately, there are many people there and that was the reason that it collapsed. The weight was probably too much for the structure,” the bishop said. “I ask for prayers so that whatever damages it may have caused may not be severe.” (PNA)