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Dublin: 14 °C Saturday 20 September, 2014

Death toll in Latvia supermarket roof collapse doubles

The roof of the large grocery store in Riga collapsed last night.

Rescuers work at the Maxima grocery store after its roof collapsed in Riga.
Rescuers work at the Maxima grocery store after its roof collapsed in Riga.
Image: Roman Koksarov/AP/Press Association Images

Updated 21:14

RESCUERS TODAY PULLED bodies from the rubble of a Latvian supermarket after its roof caved in on shoppers, leaving 51 dead in one of Europe’s worst such disasters in decades.

Hopes of finding further survivors were dwindling more than 24 hours after the roof of the Maxima supermarket collapsed during peak shopping hours around 6pm yesterday, in the Zolitude district of the Latvian capital.

“The death toll is now 51,” Toms Sadovskis, state police spokesman told AFP late today.

Riga mayor Nils Usakovs earlier said around 30 other victims were still thought to be trapped under the debris, but he later lowered the toll to just five.

“According to the latest information, there may be five more people beneath the rubble,” he wrote on Twitter, without explaining the revised figure.

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(Image: Oksana Dzadan/AP/PA)

Firefighters

Three firefighters among the 200 rescuers who rushed to the scene were among those killed, while other rescue workers became themselves trapped inside during a second collapse.

“Everything was crashing down: the walls, the roof, everything!” one witness named Jana told LNT television in the capital Riga, where flags were draped with black mourning ribbons.

“I don’t know what happened to the cashiers — if you were sitting down, there is no way you could have got out in time,” she said.

Speculation about the possible cause of the cave-in has centred on plans to build a rooftop garden on the building.

The tragedy has shocked the small Baltic state, with the government declaring three days of mourning from Saturday and a moment of silence on Monday for its deadliest accident since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

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People lay flowers and light candles in front of the Maxima supermarket (Image: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/PA).

Health ministry spokeswoman Egita Pole told AFP a preschooler was among 22 hospitalised with a concussion and bruises, while the latest victim to be rescued, a shop attendant, was hospitalised with broken limbs and head injuries after nine hours under the rubble.

Maxima board member Gintaras Jasinskas told reporters 30 employees were in the store at the time of the cave-in. Two had died and two others were missing, she said.

‘We must stick together’

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People come to put flowers and light candles at the Maxima supermarket in Riga today (Image: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/PA)

Rescuers could be seen through a crater in the roof searching through the wreckage by hand and with the help of five large cranes.

“We are working at maximum capacity but it’s a very dangerous situation in the building,” fire chief Oskars Abolins said.

Visiting the scene, Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said police had launched a criminal investigation to find the cause of the disaster.

Outside the supermarket, mourners placed flowers and lit candles by the metal police barricades lining the site of the tragedy.

Many wiped away tears, saying they were still holding out hope that their loved ones would be found alive, even as more bodies were being taken away in blue body bags.

“People have died, so many are suffering, it is easier for me to be here than at home,” said 75-year-old Vanda, who arrived with flowers and a candle.

Charities have offered help, with psychotherapists and crisis counsellors providing free consultations while volunteers have distributed hot drinks and snacks.

“In such times, we must stick together. People here are freezing, they are desperate, and I can only help them with my prayers, hot tea and coffee,” church volunteer Guna, 25, told AFP.

- © AFP 2013.

First published 07:58

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