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Latvia supermarket collapse kills 32, more feared trapped

Rescuers search for survivors at the Maxima supermarket in Riga, Latvia.
Ilmars Znotins | AFP | Getty Images
Rescuers search for survivors at the Maxima supermarket in Riga, Latvia.

Rescue workers pulled more bodies from the ruins of a collapsed supermarket in the Latvian capital, Riga, on Friday, taking the death toll to 32 with others feared buried in the rubble.

Cranes lifted large slabs from the wreckage of the Maxima store, in a suburb of grey, Soviet-era housing, to try to find those trapped after the roof collapsed on Thursday when it was full of shoppers on their way home from work.

The store, about 500 square meters (5,380 square feet) in size, was bathed in spotlights as diggers and rescue workers cleared away the wreckage. Ambulances and fire engines stood by.

Police said the death toll had risen to 32. It included three rescue workers.

"In the past hours no survivors have been found," said Viktorija Sembele, rescue service spokeswoman.

Earlier, ambulance service spokeswoman Ilze Buksa told local television 28 people had been injured and taken to hospital.

It was not clear what caused the collapse, but Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis told local television: "It is clear that there has been a problem with fulfillment of construction requirements."

Local media said workers had been building a roof garden on the store, a single-storey building located in a Riga suburb about a 30 minute drive from the city center.

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said the collapse had shattered Latvia, a former Soviet republic which will join the euro zone next year.

"In our thoughts we are together with all those who have been stricken by this tragedy," BNS news agency quoted him as saying. "No matter what the cause of the tragedy is, the number of victims is too big."

Hope

About 50 people gathered near the wreckage for news of their relatives, while others brought candles and flowers. The number of those trapped was so far unknown.

"I have a wife there. There is no information about her, whether she is dead or alive. Wherever I call, there is no information," Igor Umanov told Reuters Television. After 15 hours of rescue works, he said he believed his wife was alive.

A girl at the scene told public radio she had gone into the shop with her mother when a concrete block collapsed between them, and that she was nearly buried in rubble. She managed to escape but had not yet found her mother.

Other witnesses said there was a loud noise and the store went dark. People escaped through holes in the windows.

Rescue workers were called to the store, which according to local media had been awarded an architecture prize when it was completed in 2011, late on Thursday. Several were injured by a second collapse because of the building's weakened structure.

Rescue workers were stopping work periodically to listen for survivors and for the sounds of mobile phones in the wreckage, Latvian television said.

"Of course, psychologically it is very hard to work, taking into account that three firefighters have died," Latvian rescue services spokeswoman Inga Vetere told Latvian radio.

State fire and rescue service chief Oskars Abolins told Latvian TV heavy concrete blocks were hampering rescue efforts. "As we have to search all the rubble and the whole construction, rescue work might continue for another day," he said.

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