Death toll in col­lapse jumps to 50

Lat­vian min­is­ter cites prob­lems with con­struc­tion re­quire­ments at su­per­mar­ket

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

RIGA: Res­cue work­ers pulled bod­ies from the ru­ins of a col­lapsed su­per­mar­ket in the Lat­vian cap­i­tal, Riga, yes­ter­day as the death toll rose to 50 in the Baltic state’s worst dis­as­ter in decades.

Cranes lifted large slabs from the wreck­age of the Max­ima store, in a Riga sub­urb of grey, Soviet- era hous­ing, to find those trapped af­ter the roof col­lapsed late on Thurs­day, when it was full of shop­pers on their way home from work.

Res­cue work­ers cleared away rub­ble from the store, which had oc­cu­pied about 1 500m as am­bu­lances and fire en­gines stood by.

Po­lice said the death toll had reached 50, in­clud­ing three res­cue work­ers. Dozens peo­ple had been in­jured in the col­lapse.

“In the past hours, no sur­vivors have been found,” said Vik­torija Sem­bele, a res­cue ser­vice spokes­woman.

To help res­cuers look for peo­ple in places where shop­pers had been dur­ing the col­lapse, po­lice have cre­ated a map based on tapes from se­cu­rity cam­eras.

Lat­vian pub­lic tele­vi­sion said as many as 40 peo­ple could still be trapped in the rub­ble, based on in­for­ma­tion from the cam­eras, but nei­ther Sem­bele nor po­lice could con­firm the fig­ure.

“Ev­ery hour, air tem­per­a­ture, high air mois­ture – they are fac­tors that re­duce pos­si­bil­ity to find some sur­vivors. But, of course, hope al­ways re­mains,” Ar­mands Plorins, chief of emer­gency am­bu­lance ser­vice said.

The cause of the col­lapse re­mains un­known, but In­te­rior Min­is­ter Ri­hards Ko­zlovskis said: “It is clear that there has been a prob­lem with ful­fil­ment of con­struc­tion re­quire­ments.”

Lo­cal me­dia said work­ers had been build­ing a roof gar­den on the su­per­mar­ket, a sin­gle-storey build­ing about a 30-minute drive from the city cen­tre.

Soil, grass and parts of a new walk­way could be seen dan­gling from the edges of the col­lapsed rooftop.

Prime Min­is­ter Valdis Dom­brovskis an­nounced three days of mourn­ing start­ing to­day and said the col­lapse had shat­tered Latvia, a for­mer Soviet repub­lic which joined the EU nearly a decade ago and is set to join the euro zone next year.

“In our thoughts we are to­gether with all those stricken by this tragedy,” Dom­brovskis said. “No mat­ter what the cause of the tragedy is, the num­ber of vic­tims is too big.”

Among other post-Soviet dis­as­ters to hit the coun­try of 2 mil­lion, 23 Lat­vians per­ished, along with about 800 oth­ers, in 1994 when an Es­to­nian ferry sank in the Baltic Sea. Twenty-six peo­ple died in 2007 in a blaze at a Lat­vian care home.

Ear­lier yes­ter­day, about 50 peo­ple gath­ered near the ru­ins for news of rel­a­tives, while oth­ers brought can­dles and flow­ers.

“I have a wife there. There is no in­for­ma­tion about her, whether she is dead or alive. Wher­ever I call, there is no in­for­ma­tion,” Igor Umanov said. He said he be­lieved his wife was alive.

A girl at the scene told pub­lic ra­dio she had gone into the shop with her mother when a con­crete block col­lapsed be­tween them and that she was nearly buried in rub­ble. She man­aged to es­cape but had not yet found her mother.

Other wit­nesses said there was a loud noise and the store went dark. Peo­ple had es­caped through holes in the win­dows.

On Thurs­day, res­cue work­ers were called to the su­per­mar­ket, which ac­cord­ing to lo­cal me­dia had been awarded an ar­chi­tec­ture prize when it was com­pleted in 2011.

Sev­eral peo­ple were in­jured by a sec­ond col­lapse be­cause of the build­ing’s weak­ened struc­ture.

Res­cue work­ers were halt­ing work pe­ri­od­i­cally to lis­ten for sur­vivors and for the sound of cell­phones in the wreck­age, Lat­vian tele­vi­sion said.

State fire and res­cue ser­vice chief Oskars Abolins told Lat­vian TV heavy con­crete blocks were ham­per­ing res­cue ef­forts.

“As we have to search all the rub­ble and the whole con­struc­tion, res­cue work might con­tinue for another day,” he said. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: AP

WRECK­AGE: The ru­ins of the Max­ima su­per­mar­ket in Riga, Latvia, yes­ter­day. At least 50 peo­ple died, in­clud­ing three fire­fight­ers, af­ter an enor­mous sec­tion of roof col­lapsed dur­ing shop­ping rush hour on Thurs­day.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

VIC­TIM: Paramedics use a stretcher to move a body from a col­lapsed su­per­mar­ket in Riga, Latvia, yes­ter­day.

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