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Death toll at least 47 in Latvia supermarket roof collapse

November 22, 2013|By Sergei L. Loiko
  • An aerial view of the collapsed Maxima XX supermarket in Riga, Latvia.
An aerial view of the collapsed Maxima XX supermarket in Riga, Latvia. (Oksana Dzadan / Associated…)

MOSCOW -- The death toll from a supermarket roof collapse in Latvia's capital rose to at least 47 Friday and many other people remained missing or were injured, officials said.

“There are still from 25 to 30 people inside [under the rubble] and we hope that somebody can still be saved,” Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs told reporters in televised remarks. “But we must understand it will be difficult.”

Part of the Maxima XX supermarket's roof collapsed Thursday at about 6 p.m., killing and injuring scores of customers inside the popular store at the end of the work day, Yekaterina Zorina, a correspondent for Rossiya-24, a Russian news television network, said in a phone interview.

As rescue teams and firefighters worked at the scene, one of the walls of the sprawling building collapsed and buried some rescue workers. Rossiya-24 carried dramatic footage of the wall crashing down and rescue workers running away.

Dozens of people stood at the site through the night and morning calling their relatives and friends on cellphones and organizing minutes of silence, Zorina said.

“People lined up in hospitals to donate blood for the injured,” Zorina said. “Volunteers are walking around the area calling on every door and checking if there are any small children left alone whose parents who went shopping Thursday night might have ended up under the ruins.”

Ushakov said, “We can already say that there are children who lost their parents."

As the rescue operation continues, people brought flowers and candles to the site.

Officials said the cause of the collapse was undetermined. The supermarket was built two years ago and more construction was underway, with tons of sand and other materials being delivered to the building's roof, they said.

Yanis Urbanovich, head of the Harmony Center party faction in the Latvian parliament, said he wondered whether poor construction contributed to the collapse. The economic crisis of the last several years has meant cutting the construction inspection budget, he said.

“Who knows, if the construction inspection had been in place when the building was erected two years ago, the tragedy could have been avoided," he said in a phone interview with The Times.

“Latvia is a small, compact country and we will soon be able to find out what really happened and why,” Urbanovich said.

Latvia's government declared three days of mourning, beginning Saturday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the Latvian people.


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