23 Nov 2013

Over 50 die in Latvian supermarket collapse

8:59 pm on 23 November 2013

Rescuers in Latvia are continuing to dig through rubble for survivors of a supermarket roof collapse in the capital, Riga.

The death toll has risen to at least 52, and the police expect that figure to increase further.

Three of those killed were emergency workers who were trying to help those trapped when more of the roof came down.

The police have launched a criminal investigation into the collapse.

It is not yet clear what caused the collapse, which happened early evening when the store was full of customers, nor how many people could still be inside.

Relatives gathered outside the building as rescuers tried to find survivors in the rubble.

Rescue teams are working round the clock at the Maxima, digging in to the wreckage of the single-storey concrete and glass building to see if anyone is still trapped inside.

They have been periodically turning off all their equipment and asking the families of missing people to phone their relatives so they can pinpoint the ring tones in the debris.

Growing numbers of people are arriving at the scene to lay flowers and light candles in commemoration of the dead,

Latvia's government has declared there will be three days of official mourning for the victims.

It is the deadliest disaster in the former Soviet republic since it became independent in 1991, the BBC reports.

British pilot Paul Tribble, 27, was shopping in the store when the roof fell in.

"I was taken down by shelving falling on me, which skimmed my shoulder and forced me to the ground but I was still able to move," he told the BBC.

Mr Tribble said a crane had been loading sand and building materials onto the roof in recent weeks. He said he believed a lack of drainage following heavy rains had contributed to the fall.

The BBC reports that it is thought that the weight of soil - after heavy rains - caused the roof to cave in.

Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis told Latvian TV it was clear there had been a problem meeting building regulations.

Police are also investigating reports that emergency alarms had been set off in the store before the cave-in.