Supermarket horror in Latvia as death toll rises to 33

November 22, 2013 | By | Reply More

Nov 22, – At least 33 people have died after the roof of a supermarket collapsed in the Latvian capital Riga. Rescue efforts continued through the night and police have launched a criminal investigation.

hromedia Supermarket horror in Latvia as death toll rises to 33 eu crisis2Three of those killed were emergency workers who were helping people trapped when more of the roof came down. The number of deaths makes this the former Soviet republic’s worst disaster since independence in 1991, the country’s main news agency says.

It is unclear how many more people could still be inside. The cause of the collapse is unclear although reports say a garden was being constructed on the roof at the time.

British pilot Paul Tribble, 27, was shopping in the store with his partner Elizabeth when the roof fell in. “I was taken down by shelving falling on me, which skimmed my shoulder and forced me to the ground but I was still able to move,”

“There were torrents of water coming down off the roof. We headed into the back of the supermarket, the aisles were covered in produce and concrete and people lying on the floor.”

Mr Tribble said a crane had been loading sand and building materials onto the roof for the past few weeks. He said he believed a lack of drainage following heavy rains had contributed to the fall.

“The police have started the investigation already,” said Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis after visiting the scene. “The criminal process has started about violating building standards.”

Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis told Latvian TV it was “clear” there had been a problem meeting building regulations. Latvian rescue services spokeswoman Viktorija Sembele said three firefighters were among those killed.

“We do not know the number of people who are still inside,”. She said people were being asked to call the mobile phones of relatives feared missing to help rescuers find them in the rubble.

TV footage showed rescue workers using mechanical cutters to clear debris from the single-storey concrete and glass building. Cranes were brought in to remove slabs of concrete.

More than 60 soldiers were helping the rescue effort, the army said on its official Twitter feed. The initial collapse happened just before 18:00 (16:00 GMT) on Thursday, when the store was busy with customers.

Walls and windows also crumbled, leaving the shell of the building piled with rubble, witnesses said.

About 20 minutes later another part of the roof caved in, trapping rescue workers who were trying to reach survivors.

Dangerous work

The rescue services believe a total of about 500sq m (5,300sq ft) of roof caved in, according to reports. Witnesses said customers tried to run out after the first part of the roof collapsed but the supermarket’s electronic doors closed, trapping them inside.

Leta news agency said the collapse represented the largest loss of life from a disaster since the restoration of independence in 1991, worse than a fire at a nursing home in 2007 that killed 25. Normunds Plegermanis, deputy head of rescue services, said emergency teams faced difficult conditions at the supermarket.

“Falls are happening from time to time… it is very dangerous to work inside,” he said.

Local media said the store, part of the Maxima retail chain, had been awarded a national architecture prize when it was completed in 2011.

The reason for the collapse is not known. However, Human Rights Observers say a possible explanation is the weight of soil being used to plant a winter garden on the supermarket’s roof.

Press coordinator for HRO media – Norberto Lluch contributed to this report.

 

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Category: European Crises

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