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Nine die in church roof collapse

THE roof of a Brazilian church caved in shortly after a religious service on Sunday, killing nine people and injuring nearly one hundred worshippers.

Firefighters were still searching through the rubble at the Reborn in Christ church in Sao Paulo for one person still missing.

At least 96 people were injured when the roof collapsed between services, and at least six of them remained in serious condition in hospital yesterday, spokeswoman Marli Goncalves said.

It could take a month to determine the cause of the collapse in the coverted movie theater, 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 had been held shortly before the collapse.

Church leaders Estevam Hernandes Filho and Sonia Haddad Moraes Hernandes pleaded guilty in 2007 to smuggling more than US$56,000 into the United States hidden in luggage.

The two, currently on probation in Florida, said on the church's Website that they were devastated by the collapse 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 empire now boasts newspapers, TV and radio stations, a recording company and the Brazilian patent on the English word "gospel."


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