Fatal Collapse of Asbestos Roof
At 7 p.m. on January 18, 2009, just after services ended in the evangelical Reborn in Christ church, the roof suddenly collapsed. Hundreds of worshippers were trapped inside the church, located in a renovated cinema in São Paulo. Just minutes earlier, 1,000 people had been worshipping in the downtown premises which can accommodate up to twice as many.1 Witness Luciana Costa told journalists:
It was very quick. The ceiling started to fall as if it were dominoes. I was able to get out because I was next to the exit. I saw a lot of people stumbling over chairs.2
Throughout the night, rescue services searched for survivors in the mountains of rubble. Nine people were killed, the youngest of whom was a 15-year-old girl, and 100 were injured. Eight nearby buildings were evacuated by authorities who were concerned that the collapse of the church might weaken their structures.
The roof had been replaced last November with around 1,600 corrugated asbestos-cement tiles produced by Eternit covering an area of 2,500 square meters; since the new use of asbestos had been banned in São Paulo State by law 12.684/07 some months previously, this act was itself a crime. There is no doubt that these tiles were used; the Eternit trademark was visible on rubble which littered the devastated site.
On January 22, the Regional Superintendent of Labor and Employment of São Paulo fined the Church and the company Etersul Hedges and Remodelling for using asbestos corrugated roofing tiles on the Church's headquarters in the Cambuci district.3 The Church and company were fined Reais 2 and 3 million respectively ($850,000, $1.28 m); unless the company provided the records of employees who installed the roofing material by Friday, January 25, further fines would be issued. The Church was given a maximum of ten days to submit a work plan for the safe removal of the contaminated tiles and debris from the site. Meanwhile, an order was issued by the Ministry of Labor that no one move the rubble or undertake any work or activity that does not comply with São Paulo codes of practice or laws.
The Christian denomination Reborn in Christ, which was founded in 1986, has followers in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Japan and the U.S. In Brazil, it is one of the biggest evangelical movements and numbers its members in the millions. The founders of this movement, Estevem and Sonia Hernandes, who also own a media empire, were arrested in 2007 by U.S. authorities on charges of smuggling $56,000 in cash into the country. They remain under house arrest in their mansion in Boca Raton, near West Palm Beach, Florida. The couple, who said they were saddened and shocked by the incident are wanted in Brazil on charges of money laundering, fraud and misrepresentation.
January 24, 2009
1 Simoes E, Rodrigues M, Benson T. Death toll climbs to 9 in Brazil church collapse. January 19, 2009
2 Barrowclough A. Brazil Church collapse kills seven. January 19, 2009
3 SP fine Renascer church and Etersul by misuse of asbestos. January 24, 2009.