Two workmen were killed after a crane crashed into and seriously damaged the stadium due to host the opening match of next year’s World Cup in Brazil.
The crane – believed to be the biggest in Brazil – fell on to one stand of the £220m Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, leading part of it to collapse.
Fabio Luiz Pereira, 42, and Ronaldo Oliveira dos Santos, 44, both of whom had young children, were killed and last night there were conflicting reports of others being injured.
The tragedy came less than a month before the stadium was due to be handed over to Fifa on 31 December, and only nine days before the World Cup draw in Sauipe, near Salvador.
Hundreds of workers were rushing to finish the stadium by installing the final 15-metre metal piece of the roof when the ground underneath the crane gave way, according to local media.
Footage showed the twisted metal structure on the ground amid debris after the accident.
Workers said the death toll could have been higher – as many labourers survived unscathed as the accident happened at about 12.30pm, during their lunch hour.
Jose Mario da Silva, 48, a workman, said: “I had just walked under that crane to go for lunch. If it hadn’t been lunchtime, many more people would have died. I would not be alive. I just heard the noise. They were putting in the last piece of the roof, which was the heaviest.”
Mr Pereira, a driver, died when the cab of his truck was hit by the falling crane.
Another worker, talking anonymously to the Brazilian sports website Lancenet, said labourers had been put under huge pressure to finish the stadium in time.
He said: “It was the last piece [of the roof] that we had to put in place and one thing we said was how much pressure there was.
“As it rained all week, generally they put stones on the ground [underneath the crane] here but this time, they didn’t. It was a little more hectic.”
The accident is the latest blow to construction work to finish the final six of the 12 World Cup stadiums across Brazil before the strict deadline of 31 December imposed by Fifa.
Many of those stadiums have faced delays, with those in Sao Paulo, Manaus and Cuiaba considered particularly unlikely to meet the deadline by observers. Last week the company that is building the Sao Paulo stadium, Odebrecht, said work was 94 per cent complete.
But now that deadline seems impossible, with work at the stadium stopped for three days and 30 per cent of the site cordoned off so authorities can investigate the accident.
During the World Cup, the stadium is scheduled to host six games, including the opening match and one of the semi-finals.
A Fifa spokesman said they sent their “heartfelt” condolences and said “the safety of workers is the top priority for Fifa and the federal government”.
Fifa’s secretary general Jérôme Valcke tweeted: “Extremely shocked by the news from Sao Paulo.
“Our thoughts are with the families of the victims of this accident.”
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