February 23, 2006

Roof of Russian market collapses, 27 killed

By Richard Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The roof of a covered market in Moscow
collapsed on Thursday, possibly under the weight of snow,
killing at least 27 people and trapping others in the rubble,
emergency services said.

The roof of the market in Bauman district in eastern Moscow
caved in at 5:45 a.m. (0245 GMT) after an overnight snowfall in
the city which is experiencing one of its coldest winters in a

Viktor Beltsov, spokesman for the Emergency Ministry, was
quoted by Itar-Tass news agency as putting the death toll at
27. "We have just recovered six more bodies. We are continuing
our work to rescue those trapped."

Twenty-five others had been taken to hospital suffering
from injuries. Sniffer dogs had indicated 11 places where
people buried in the wreckage might still be alive.

"People trapped are calling out. They are knocking. The
trouble is: time is going by," Emergencies Minister Sergei
Shoigu said at the scene.

The accident occurred as vendors were preparing their
stalls at the start of a national holiday to mark Defenders of
the Motherland Day.

Officials said the death toll would have been much worse if
the market had been open for business at the time.

Rescue workers poured into the area and lifting gear was
used to raise twisted girders and concrete blocks that came
down when the circular roof on the building collapsed.

Bodies of the victims lay for a while in the snow alongside
the debris as rescue workers concentrated their efforts on
hacking their way into the rubble.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who went to the scene, ruled out
the possibility that the disaster was an attack by Chechen
militants to coincide with the armed forces national holiday.

"We can safely say that the collapse of the market's roof
is not a terrorist act," he said.

Russian news agencies said the main market building came
crashing down on to market stalls across an area of 2,000
square metres (21,530 sq ft).

"According to a preliminary version, a big snowfall is
responsible," an emergencies services spokesman said.


Emergency services sent 50 rescue teams, including
firefighters, to try to extract survivors from the ruins.

Survivors were said to be communicating from the debris by
mobile phone to help rescue workers locate them.

"Rescuers are hoping that the majority of people trapped in
the ruins can be brought out alive," said Yuri Akimov, a senior
Emergency Ministry official.

The architect who designed the covered market, built in the
1970s, said in a radio interview that its flat roof had not
been designed to bear a heavy load of snow.

"It seems there was a lot of snow, and nobody removed it,"
Nodar Kancheli was quoted by Itar-Tass news agency as telling a
Moscow radio station. "Nobody was allowed to get on to the roof
to clear it off."

Kancheli was charged in April 2005 with negligence over the
design of the Transvaal Park swimming pool complex, whose roof
collapsed in February 2004 under the weight of snow, killing 28
people and injuring 200. He has denied responsibility.

Heavy snow loads have caused fatal roof collapses elsewhere
in Europe this winter, killing 66 people attending a pigeon
fanciers exhibition in Katowice, Poland, and 15 in an ice rink
in Bad Reichenhall, Germany.