February 23, 2006

Collapsed Russian roof kills 49

By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Moscow market roof collapsed on
Thursday, possibly under the weight of snow, killing at least
49 people and trapping many in the rubble, emergency services

Rescue workers with sniffer dogs were searching for
survivors trapped under twisted metal and concrete as smoke
billowed from the market's ruins.

Emergency Ministry spokesmen put the death toll from the
early morning accident at 49 with 31 injured in hospital. But
emergency workers at the scene said the toll could rise

"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. (0245 GMT) after an overnight snowfall in the city
which is undergoing one of its harshest winters in a

As the death toll edged toward 50, President Vladimir Putin
called for a "painstaking investigation" to pin down why the
building, built in the 1970s, collapsed.

The collapse came as vendors were setting out their stalls
at the start of a national holiday. Many victims were from
Azerbaijan and other countries in the Caucasus.

"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.

Mamedov estimated there were about 100 people in the market
place at the time. Another worker who was allowed back into the
market by emergency services told Reuters he saw bodies
everywhere and put the death toll at about 55.


Anxious relatives awaited news outside police cordons and
scanned survivor lists pinned to buildings.

"Everything just collapsed, I picked myself up and ran,"
said Rasim, whose brother was killed in the building.

Fifty rescue teams, including firefighters, were drafted in
and lifting gear raised twisted girders and concrete blocks.

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.

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

The main market building came crashing down onto an area of
21,530 sq ft, Russian news agencies said.

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, adding that the roof probably
collapsed because it could not bear the weight of the snow.

Luzhkov ordered checks at all the buildings with roofs of
similar design.

Nodar Kancheli, the market's architect, said its roof had
not been designed to bear a heavy load of snow.

"It seems there was a lot of snow, and nobody removed it,"
Itar-Tass news agency quoted him as saying on the radio.

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 has caused roof collapses elsewhere in Europe
this winter, killing 66 people at an exhibition in Katowice,
Poland, and 15 in an ice rink in Bad Reichenhall, Germany.