February 23, 2006

Collapsed Russian roof kills 56

By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Moscow market roof collapsed on
Thursday, possibly under the weight of snow, killing at least
56 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.

An Emergency Ministry spokesman put the death toll from the
early morning accident at 56 with 32 injured. But emergency
workers at the scene said the toll could rise further.

"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

President Vladimir Putin called for a "painstaking
investigation" to find out down why the building collapsed.

The collapse came as vendors were setting out their stalls
at the start of a national holiday. Many victims were market
traders 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
at the time while another worker who was allowed back in by
emergency services told Reuters he saw bodies everywhere and
put the death toll at about 55.


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 it probably caved in
because it could not bear the weight of the snow.

Luzhkov ordered checks at all buildings with similar roofs
as it emerged that the architect who helped design the roof of
the market, built in the 1970s, also designed the Transvaal
Park swimming pool complex, whose roof collapsed in February

Nodar Kancheli was charged in April 2005 with negligence
over the roof collapse at the Transvaal Park complex which
killed 28 people and injured 200. He has denied responsibility.

Kancheli said the roof had not been designed to bear a
heavy load of snow, but was questioned by prosecutors on

"I was questioned as a witness and no charges were made,"
he was quoted as saying by the Itar-Tass news agency. "It seems
there was a lot of snow, and nobody removed it," the agency
quoted him as saying on the radio.

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

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

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

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

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

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.