February 23, 2006

Collapsed Russian roof kills 40

By Richard Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A covered market in Moscow collapsed on
Thursday, possibly under the weight of snow on its roof,
killing at least 40 people and trapping others in the rubble,
emergency services said.

"People trapped are calling out. They are knocking. The
trouble is: time is going by," Emergencies Minister Sergei
Shoigu said at the scene, where rescue workers tried to locate
survivors as another bitter winter's night loomed.

The building in Bauman district in eastern Moscow caved in
at 5:45 a.m. after an overnight snowfall in the city which is
undergoing one of its coldest winters in a generation.

"I woke up. There was some sort of big bang and everything
was in darkness," said Halik Mamedov, 37, a herb seller who had
been sleeping under a staircase in the market and managed to
scramble to safety.

An Emergency Ministry spokesman put the death toll at 40,
with 29 injured being treated in hospital.

But as work continued to try to get to those trapped in
twisted metal and concrete, with sniffer dogs helping the
search, the death toll was expected to climb further.

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

President Vladimir Putin, at ceremonies marking the
holiday, called for a "painstaking investigation" to pin down
why the building, built in the 1970s, collapsed.

Mamedov estimated there were about 100 people in the market
place at the time. Officials said the death toll would have
been much worse if the market had been open for business.

Rescue workers poured into the area and lifting gear was
used to raise twisted girders and concrete blocks that came
down when the building's circular roof 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 onto market stalls across an area of 21,530 sq

"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 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.

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge)