Fri, Feb 24, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Roof collapse kills 49 in Moscow

OLD MARKET Moscow officials ruled out terrorism as a cause, while workers searched for survivors with about 10 people believed trapped and 29 injured


The concave, snow-covered roof of a three-decade-old Moscow market collapsed early yesterday, killing at least 49 people and trapping about 10, officials said.

Rescue workers used metal cutters and hydraulic lifters to clear the ruins of steel and concrete pieces. Workers used pickaxes to cut holes in the wreckage and knelt to call into the holes in search of survivors.

The victims were municipal and market workers. Channel One said they had spent the night in the market, which was not open for retail business. Ekho Moskvy radio reported that there could also have been wholesale buyers in the building.

Some of those under the rubble were alive, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters at the scene.

"They're knocking and crying out," he said.

At least 29 people were injured.

Trapped survivors were using mobile phones to call their relatives, helping rescuers zero in on their location, said Yuri Akimov, deputy head of the Moscow department of the Emergency Situations Ministry.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who went to the site to oversee rescue efforts, absolutely ruled out terrorism as a possible cause, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

Investigators were looking at three possible causes of the collapse: improper maintenance of the building, a buildup of snow and errors in the building's design, Moscow prosecutor Anatoly Zuyev said. A wet snow had fallen for much of the day on Wednesday and overnight.

Ekho Moskvy radio said the entire roof, covering an area of about 2,000m2, had fallen onto the market stalls.

"The main task now is not to let the building collapse further," Akimov said.

Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation on charges of negligence leading to the deaths of two or more people, RIA-Novosti said.

Ukhtai Salmanov, a 52-year-old herb-seller from Azerbaijan, said he had been heading out of the market at about 4:50am. Near one of the exits, "I heard a loud noise and I fell to the ground and lost consciousness. When I came to, I was lying by the entrance."

"There was smoke and people were screaming," Ukhtai said, his clothes covered in dust.

Fighting back tears, he said his three sisters, who also worked in the market, were killed. There was no way he could have saved anyone, he said, because a mound of rubble blocked him from reaching them.

Electric generators hummed, and every few minutes the more than 150 rescuers turned off all the equipment and stood silently to listen for signs of life.

About five hours after the collapse, rescuers found a survivor and were trying to pull the person out. A second survivor was found about an hour later.

"We are working at full strength all over the territory of the market," Akimov said.

"Rescue workers are working underneath the building to save those still alive, and we are hoping to save the majority of them," he said.

Utility workers dismantled trolley bus lines running close to the market to allow heavy equipment to maneuver through the narrow streets of the old neighborhood.

The Interfax news agency said emergency officials had sent about 50 ambulances to the site of the collapse at the Bauman market in eastern Moscow, which occurred on Defenders of the Fatherland Day, a state holiday honoring the armed forces. Rescuers used sniffer dogs to locate survivors.

Interfax said that the market had been designed in the 1970s by Nodar Kancheli, the same architect who drafted the plans for Moscow's Transvaal water park, where the roof collapsed in February 2004, killing 28 people. Prosecutors have blamed that collapse on design flaws.

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