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Tags: latvia | roof | collapse

Latvia President: Roof Collapse That Killed at Least 54 is 'Murder'

Saturday, 23 November 2013 08:35 AM EST

RIGA, Latvia — Latvia's president on Saturday described a supermarket roof collapse that killed at least 54 people as "murder," as rescuers searched for as many as 10 more victims believed to be buried in the rubble.

Early reports suggest the roof caved in due to either faulty construction or building work on its grass- and gravel-covered surface, where workers were installing a garden area and children's playground for an adjacent high-rise residential building.
President Andris Berzins spoke bluntly about the disaster at the Maxima supermarket in Riga, though he did not single anyone out as culpable.
"This is a case where we need to say clearly it is the murder of an enormous number of defenseless people, and that's how we should proceed," Berzins said in an interview with Latvian television.
Berzins called for a speedy investigation to prevent those responsible from covering up a paper trail and "coming off as pure as angels."
Fifty-four deaths had been confirmed from the structural failure by Saturday afternoon. Police spokesman Dairis Anucins said earlier that there were reports of 10 missing people, and it was not clear if the new death toll included any of them.

As horrific accounts of the tragedy emerged from some of the 40 people known to have survived, anger and suspicion mounted over the causes of Europe's third deadliest roof collapse in 30 years.

"I was queuing at the cash desk when the roof suddenly caved in. It all happened within a few seconds," 19-year-old Antons Ryakhin, saying "about 100 people" had been inside with him.

"It was dark but still light enough to see the exit. I ran out. The doors were open, but a lot of rubble fell in front of them — I think that's why some people couldn't get through."

Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs said Friday five people were feared trapped inside but it was unclear how many were still believed to be missing on Saturday.

"Much of the site has been checked but the structures that remain include some of the largest, heaviest blocks which are particularly dangerous," fire and rescue service spokeswoman Viktorija Sembele told AFP.

Police investigators could be seen sifting through the rubble alongside rescuers Saturday. The latest body was hauled from the mass of tangled steel and concrete Saturday morning.

Speculation has centered on the extra weight created by a rooftop garden and playground and on the possibility that building regulations may have been bent.

"It's probably the same old story — do it cheap and pocket the difference. But it is ordinary people who pay the real price," Riga taxi driver Arsenijs Smirnovs told AFP.

Maxima spokeswoman Olga Malaskeviciene told AFP the company had launched safety checks at its 140 other stores in Latvia and plans similar reviews in Lithuania and Estonia.

"The cause remains a mystery, but it must be discovered. Obviously if a mistake was made it was a massive one," said Marite Straume, spokeswoman for the Re&Re firm that did the building work.

"The strange thing is at the time of the collapse we were replacing the heavy rocks that had been there for two winters with much lighter materials to make the garden. The roof was actually getting lighter," she told AFP.

A photograph published by Latvia's Diena daily showed an aerial view of the roof prior to the collapse, covered in soil, shrubbery, a children's playground and construction material.

"Visually the building looked great but it is more important to get the technical engineering right than the looks," Sergejs Meierovics of the Latvian association of building engineers told AFP.

Part of the roof at the two-year old supermarket crashed down during peak shopping hours around 6 p.m. on Thursday, in the Zolitude district of the Latvian capital.

A second collapse crushed to death the rescuers who had already entered the building.

Thousands of glowing candles and heaps of flowers decked the perimeter crash barriers surrounding the site, placed by a constant stream of shell-shocked residents.

"I don't even know why I'm here. It just seems important. Maybe if there is still someone in there they can feel that we are here," pensioner Normunds Andersons told AFP.

Flags were being flown from houses across the country with a black sash attached as Latvia began a three-day period of national mourning.

Just days after November 18 independence celebrations, the tragedy snuffed out an upbeat mood in Latvia, with 2014 set to mark its entry into the eurozone and showcase Riga as the European capital of culture.

Child Protection Inspectorate director Laila Rieksta-Riekstina told Latvian Radio Saturday that "16 children lost one parent and one child has unfortunately lost both parents" in the tragedy.

The state fire and rescue service website paid tribute to the three firefighters who died, describing them as "more like family members than colleagues."

Books of condolence have been opened at Latvian embassies abroad including Britain, Canada, Ireland, Poland, Russia, Poland and the USA while world leaders have also expressed sympathy.

The central government, Riga city council and the Maxima retailer have promised compensation to victims and charities are also raising cash.

© AFP 2023

Latvian investigators and rescuers combed the ruins of a supermarket for clues and bodies Saturday after its roof crashed down on shoppers, killing at least 52.
Saturday, 23 November 2013 08:35 AM
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