The death count in the roof collapse at the headquarters of a Brazilian evangelical church rose to eight today, and the number of worshippers injured increased to nearly 100.
One person hurt when the roof of the Reborn in Christ church caved in yesterday died in a hospital before dawn, said church spokeswoman Marli Goncalves.
Firefighters told Globo TV they were searching through the wreckage of the large church for one person who was still missing. At least 96 people were injured when the roof collapsed in between services, and at least five of those people remained hospitalized in serious condition on Monday, Goncalves said. It could take a month to determine the cause of the collapse, authorities said. The church denied reports that the roof had recently been renovated, and Goncalves said the building was up to code.
Sao Paulo has been hit by torrential rains over the last week, but it was unclear whether that could have contributed. The church can hold 2,000 people, and a packed youth service was held shortly before the collapse, but the church was relatively empty when the roof fell.
Police and rescuers yesterday were picking through a latticework of bent steel across the floor of the evangelical church, housed in a former movie theater.
Reborn in Christ claims 2 million members worldwide, with Brazilian football star Kaka its most prominent. The AC Milan star was married in the church in 2005.
Reborn in Christ church leaders Estevam Hernandes Filho and Sonia Haddad Moraes Hernandes pleaded guilty in 2007 to smuggling more than $56,000 into the United States hidden in their luggage. They are currently on probation in Florida, and are expected to return to Brazil in June, Goncalves said.
The two issued a statement on the church's Web site saying they were devastated by the collapse that "brought so much horror" and were praying for the victims.
Hernandes, a former Xerox marketing executive, started the church with his wife in the back room of a Sao Paulo pizza parlor in 1986. Their evangelical empire now boasts newspapers, TV and radio stations, a recording company and the Brazilian patent on the English word "gospel."
The church has some 1,200 temples in Brazil, the United States, Argentina and Italy. The Sao Paulo church is its headquarters, and the church's annual "March for Jesus" rally in South America's largest city draws millions.