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51 dead in grocery roof collapse in Latvia

RIGA, Latvia — As Latvian rescue workers searched Friday for bodies in the rubble of a supermarket collapse that killed dozens, speculation about the cause focused on a garden and a playground being installed on the grass- and gravel-covered roof.

The death toll from the Thursday evening rush-hour roof collapse at the Maxima supermarket in Latvia's capital had risen to at least 51, including three firefighters, police said.

Police opened a criminal investigation into the cause of the tragedy at the award-winning building — once vaunted as a place where high-rise residents could step out of their homes, stroll along a shady garden and pick up a couple of items for dinner.

Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs told reporters that large bags of construction materials and soil were left on a weak spot on the roof and could have caused the collapse. It had rained for days, leading to speculation that the soil had become soaked and weighed down.

Deputy Mayor Andris Ameriks said several reinforced steel beams fell over at once, which might indicate that engineers failed to properly calculate load pressure on the roof. He blamed budget cuts for a lack of construction controls.

"In recent years due to the economic crisis many institutions, including construction oversight, … were closed in Latvia in order to save money," Ameriks told Latvian television.

State Police spokesman Toms Sadovskis said rescuers hoped to complete the search for survivors by this morning. Several large construction cranes gingerly hauled metal slabs and other debris from the central hole, while bulldozers cleared paths into the store.

People bring flowers and light candles in front of the Maxima supermarket in Riga, Latvia, on Friday. Hordes of shoppers were picking up food after work in the Latvian capital when an enormous section of the supermarket’s roof caved in. The death toll from the rush-hour disaster Thursday evening at the store was 51 on Friday night.

Associated Press

People bring flowers and light candles in front of the Maxima supermarket in Riga, Latvia, on Friday. Hordes of shoppers were picking up food after work in the Latvian capital when an enormous section of the supermarket’s roof caved in. The death toll from the rush-hour disaster Thursday evening at the store was 51 on Friday night.

51 dead in grocery roof collapse in Latvia 11/22/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 22, 2013 11:03pm]
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