Rescuers in Latvia frantically combed the rubble of a supermarket yesterday, a day after its roof collapsed on shoppers near the capital, Riga, killing at least 33 people.
The tragedy shocked the small Baltic state, with the government declaring three days of mourning starting today and planning to hold a moment of silence on Monday for its worst accident since regaining independence in 1991.
The roof of the Maxima supermarket smashed down on customers during peak shopping hours at about 6pm on Thursday in the Riga suburb of Zolitude.
Rescuers rushed to the scene, but many were trapped when the roof caved in a second time.
“Everything was crashing down: the walls, the roof, everything,” a witness, Jana, told LNT TV.
“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.
Police spokeswoman Sigita Pildava said that 33 people have been confirmed dead and at least 38 others injured following the cave-in of about 500m2 of the roof.
Police refused to say how many people were thought to be inside the two-year-old building and there were fears that teenagers could have been among them as a high school is near the store.
Among the dead were three firefighters who were killed trying to rescue people following the initial cave-in of the roof.
“I am proud of my Dad — he died helping others, not thinking about himself,” said a Twitter message rfrom a girl named Katrina, whose father was among the dead.
About 200 rescue workers, backed by military personnel, combed through the rubble through the night.
“We are working at maximum capacity, but it’s a very dangerous situation in the building — it seems likely we will have to continue working all day long,” fire boss Oskars Abolins said.
Visiting the scene, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said police had launched a criminal investigation to find the cause of the disaster.
“The state will do everything necessary to help the injured and pay compensation where it is appropriate,” he told reporters.
Speculation about the possible cause centred on plans to build a rooftop garden.
Local council official Juris Radzevics said that plans had been submitted to the council to turn the roof into a green area.
“The project was submitted in accordance with all regulations, but of course we will be looking at whether materials and works were carried out to the proper standards,” Radzevics told LNT TV.