Colombia bullfight stands collapse, causing deaths and injuries

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BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Several tiers of stands in an improvised bullring collapsed during a bullfight in central Colombia on Sunday, leaving at least five people dead and dozens injured – figures that could increase in the coming hours – as terrified spectators were trapped in the rubble.

The tragedy took place in El Espinal, a small town located some 95 miles southwest of Bogotá.

Footage of the collapse quickly went viral on social media. It showed dozens of people teasing and playing with a wounded bull during a popular event known as corraleja. Suddenly, three levels of stands gave way, trapping hundreds of men, women and children underneath. As people screamed, some jumped out of their seats and rushed to help, trying to heave wood and other debris aside.

Hector Ortiz, 64, could not believe the scene. A woman next to him shouted “That balcony is about to fall down!” spirit he watched the stands begin to cave in one after another, like dominoes.

“After the first balcony collapsed, it pulled the next one, and so on, and so on. It was the gate the bulls go through that stopped the collapse. Otherwise we’d be talking about a much bigger tragedy, ”Ortiz told The Washington Post.

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Every year, the mayor’s office and private parties in El Espinal organize events to celebrate the Feast of Saint Peter on June 29. The bullring is erected for a spectacle that originated on the Caribbean coast when Colombia was a Spanish colony. Unlike in traditional Spanish bullfighting, the bulls are not ordinarily killed in a corraleja, and spectators are invited to run around with the animal still in the ring.

In towns such as El Espinal, the event has evolved to become a popular show.

The bullring was built with gadua bamboo, and its multiple levels were packed with spectators. “A gadua bamboo structure is pretty unstable,” said Luis Fernando Velez, head of the regional civil defense agency. “Organizers should have foreseen this could happen.”

Velez said 50 volunteers from the civil defense were working to transfer more than 70 injured spectators from the bullring to the town’s one hospital. Firefighters and police also helped. The local health system sends a “red alert” to the community.

On Twitter, Colombia President Iván Duque expressed concern for the victims and called for a prompt investigation.

Among the missing were children who had been beside their parents at the bullring when the structure gave way, Velez said.

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The incident recalled a similar corralejas disaster in the Caribbean town of Sincelejo. Over 500 people died and more than 2,000 were wounded in 1980 when the makeshift stands there collapsed.

“This had already happened before in Sincelejo,” tweeted President-elect Gustavo Petro, who will take office in August. “I request local authorities to refrain from authorizing more spectacles with the death of persons or animals.”

Petro sparked outrage as mayor of Bogotá when he banned bullfighting. On Sunday he seemed ready to wage the same battle nationally.

Having witnessed the disaster Sunday, Ortiz said: “I think this is the end for corralejas in El Espinal. ”

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