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Over 50 dead in Latvian supermarket collapse

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-11-23

Rescue workers searched for survivors buried under the ruins of a collapsed supermarket in the Latvian capital of Riga on Friday as the death toll rose to 51 in the Baltic state's worst disaster in decades.

At least 51 people died and dozens of shoppers were trapped when large sections of the roof caved in at a supermarket in Riga, the capital of Latvia, on Thursday.

Three of the dead were firefighters who were killed by a second collapse shortly after they entered the ruins  in a rescue attempt.

The dangerous search for survivors continued for a second night on Friday, but rescue workers said they had not found anybody alive in the past few hours.

"We're still having moments of silence to listen for voices of people trapped, but unfortunately the only voices out there are of firefighters working," state police spokesman Toms Sadovskis said late on Friday.

Police have launched a criminal investigation into the collapse, which seems to have been caused by the weight of a winter garden under construction on the supermarket’s roof.

Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis told local television that there may have been problems with the construction, though the supermarket was actually awarded an architecture prize when it was completed in 2011.

Nation mourns as search continues

Cranes lifted large slabs from the wreckage of the Maxima store to find those trapped when the roof collapsed late on Thursday.

Rescue workers cleared away rubble from the store, which had occupied around 1,500 square metres (16,150 square feet), as ambulances and fire engines stood by.

Reuters reported that up to 50 locals established a vigil close to the site with candles and flowers while hoping for news of loved ones. The supermarket is located in a densely populated suburb and the collapse occurred during the peak after-work shopping hour.

To help rescuers, police created a map, based on security camera footage, showing where shoppers were standing at the time of the collapse.

State rescue service chief Oskars Abolins told TV the search was slow because the rubble was up to 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) deep. Firefighters were clearing it by hand and with shovels.

Abolins said rescue work was expected to continue all night. Firefighters still had to search around 400 square metres for any people, dead or alive.

Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said the nation was shattered by the tragedy.

“No matter what the cause of the tragedy is, the number of victims is too big,” he told the regional BNS news agency.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2013-11-22

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