Latvia's president called the supermarket roof collapse "murder of an enormous number of defenseless people."
RIGA, Latvia (AP) — A massive third section of the roof at a Latvian supermarket where at least 54 people were killed fell Saturday as emergency workers searched rubble nearby for more victims. Though no one was injured, the cave-in revealed just how unstable the building still is two days after the initial collapses.
Latvia's president described the disaster at the Maxima supermarket in Riga, the worst accident in the Baltic country since it regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, as "murder" and called for a speedy investigation into its cause. Investigators are looking at faulty construction or building work on the roof's grass- and gravel-covered surface as the potential causes of the first collapse in the crowded supermarket on Thursday.
Workers were installing a garden area and children's playground for an adjacent high-rise residential building. Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman Viktorija Sembele said the third collapse occurred in an area where firefighters were not working, but the service immediately recalled its people from inside to ensure there were no casualties. The service tweeted minutes later that no one was injured. The dramatic cave-in came as rescue workers were finishing their search operation in a particularly dangerous part of the building, Sembele said. The operation has been temporarily stopped.
An Associated Press video of the scene showed a large portion of the roof crashing in as rescuers worked nearby. A massive boom can be heard as the section hits the ground in a cloud of dust. President Andris Berzins spoke bluntly about the disaster in an interview with Latvian television, though he did not single anyone out as culpable. "This is a case where we need to say clearly it is the murder of an enormous number of defenseless people, and that's how we should proceed," Berzins said in an interview with Latvian television. Berzins called for a speedy investigation to prevent those responsible from covering up a paper trail and "coming off as pure as angels."
Pictures show that a large amount of building materials, including bags of soil for the garden, were left in areas of the roof that Riga city officials say could have been vulnerable to heavy loads. Fifty-four deaths had been confirmed from the structural failure by Saturday afternoon. Police spokesman Dairis Anucins said earlier that there were reports of 10 missing people, and it was not clear if the new death toll included any of them. Laila Rieksta-Riekstina, head of the state's child welfare department, told Latvia Radio that 16 children lost parents in the accident. Three of them lost both parents. Some 40 people were injured, including 13 firefighters who rushed to the scene, and 23 people remained hospitalized as of Saturday afternoon, police said.
The government declared three days of mourning starting Saturday. Latvians streamed to the site in a densely populated neighborhood between downtown Riga and the airport to lay flowers and light candles. The Fire and Rescue Service has said only 850 square feet of debris remained to be searched as of late Saturday afternoon, but they said it was a difficult section with rubble piled up to 12 feet high. Rescue workers had stopped the operation early Saturday to consult with engineers before continuing. Police have launched an investigation, which could take several weeks to complete. Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs tweeted Saturday that once the investigation is over, the supermarket's ruins would be razed and a monument built to the victims. He also suggested that the incomplete residential building might be torn down.