Recordings 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. Sudden, three levels of grandstands gave way, captures hundreds of men, women and children below. While people were screaming, someone jumped out of the seats and hurried to help, trying to pull firewood 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!” and he saw eight sections begin to cave in one after the other, like dominoes.
“After the first balcony collapsed, it pulled the next one, and so on and so forth,” Ortiz told The Washington Post. “It was the gate the bulls went through that stopped the collapse. Otherwise, we would be talking about a much bigger tragedy. “
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Every year, the mayor’s office and private parties in El Espinal organize events to celebrate St. Peter’s Day on June 29. The bullring is built for a spectacle that originated on the Caribbean coast when Colombia was a Spanish colony. Unlike traditional Spanish bullfighting, bulls are not usually killed in a corraleja, and spectators are invited to run around with the animal still in the ring.
In cities like El Espinal, the event has developed into a popular show.
The bullring was built with gadua bamboo, and several levels were packed with spectators. “A gadua bamboo structure is quite unstable,” said Luis Fernando Velez, head of the regional civil defense agency. “The organizers should have anticipated that this could happen.”
Velez said that 50 volunteers from the civil defense worked to transfer the most seriously injured of the 322 injured spectators from the bullring to one of the city’s hospitals. The fire brigade and police also helped. The local health system sent a “red alert” to the community.
On Twitter, Colombian President Iván Duque expressed concern about the victims and called for a speedy investigation.
A 14-month-old baby was among the dead. More than two dozen children were injured, and others were missing, after being next to their parents at the bullring when the structure gave way, Velez said. The eight stands involved held an estimated 800 people, according to Mayor Juan Carlos Tamayo Salas.
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The incident remembered a similar corralejas disaster in the Caribbean city of Sincelejo. More than 500 people died and more than 2,000 were injured in 1980 when the makeshift stands there collapsed.
“This had already happened before in Sincelejo,” tweeted incoming President Gustavo Petro, who will take office in August. “I ask local authorities to refrain from approving more glasses with the death of people or animals.”
Petro sparked outrage as mayor of Bogotá when he banned bullfighting. On Sunday, he seemed ready to lead the same battle nationally.
After witnessing the disaster on Sunday, Ortiz said: “I think this is the end for corralejas and El Espinal. “