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Poland Calls Off Rescue Effort

Officials in the southern region of Silesia say it is nearly impossible that anyone else survived the roof cave-in Saturday that killed 66 people.

January 30, 2006|Ela Kasprzycka | Special to The Times

WARSAW — Rescue efforts largely ended Sunday at the scene of a roof collapse in southern Poland that killed at least 66 people, and President Lech Kaczynski declared three days of national mourning.

Officials said the chances of finding anyone alive in the exhibition hall, where the roof collapsed Saturday during an international pigeon fair, were practically zero.

"We are no longer able to search for victims through our methods. Teams specialized in the construction of such buildings have to go in, and then we will see if any fatalities remain there," Gen. Janusz Skulich, head of firefighters in the Silesia region, told public television.

Officials at the regional crisis center said 66 people had died and more than 160 had been hurt. Ninety-one of the injured were still hospitalized, and 78 had been treated and released, Tomasz Bajor said by telephone from the crisis center in Katowice.

Among the injured were people from the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia and Belgium.

"As long as the last beam remains unchecked there is always fear that bodies could still be found," Bajor said.

According to the crisis team, the last living person was taken out of the building Saturday evening, about five hours after the roof collapsed.

Zdzislaw Karol, one of those trapped in the building who was later rescued, told private RMF radio: "I was dying, I was crushed and was beginning to lose consciousness. And now I have been given another life."

He said he was grateful to rescue teams who "risked their lives to save ours."

Kaczynski called the accident Poland's biggest tragedy since an airplane crash in Warsaw in 1987 that killed almost 200 people.

"I think all of Poland is praying for the souls of those who died," the president said. Thousands of Poles lighted candles in their windows in memory of the victims.

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Jerzy Polaczek said after surveying the scene that the roof of the building had been covered by 20 inches of snow. But Grzegorz Slyszek, a lawyer representing the company that owns the building, said the snow had been removed. He said the owners were awaiting the results of an official investigation into why the roof had collapsed.

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