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Latvia probes store disaster as hopes dim of survivors

Latvian investigators and rescuers combed the ruins of a Riga supermarket for clues and bodies after its roof crashed down on shoppers, killing at least 52.



Riga: Latvian investigators and rescuers combed the ruins of a Riga supermarket for clues and bodies on Saturday after its roof crashed down on shoppers, killing at least 52.

Hope was dwindling of finding any survivors two days after the roof of the Maxima supermarket caved in and the small Baltic state began mourning the victims of its worst disaster since independence in 1991.

As horrific accounts of the tragedy emerged from some of the 40 people known to have survived, anger and suspicion mounted over the causes of Europe`s third deadliest roof collapse in 30 years.

"I was queuing at the cash desk when the roof suddenly caved in. It all happened within a few seconds," 19-year-old Antons Ryakhin, saying "about 100 people" had been inside with him.

"It was dark but still light enough to see the exit. I ran out. The doors were open, but a lot of rubble fell in front of them -- I think that`s why some people couldn`t get through."

Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs said Friday five people were feared trapped inside but it was unclear how many were still believed to be missing today.

"Much of the site has been checked but the structures that remain include some of the largest, heaviest blocks which are particularly dangerous," fire and rescue service spokeswoman Viktorija Sembele told a news agency.

Police investigators could be seen sifting through the rubble alongside rescuers today. The latest body was hauled from the mass of tangled steel and concrete at 6:00 am (0400 GMT).

Speculation has centred on the extra weight created by a rooftop garden and playground and on the possibility that building regulations may have been bent.

"It`s probably the same old story -- do it cheap and pocket the difference. But it is ordinary people who pay the real price," Riga taxi driver Arsenijs Smirnovs told a news agency.

Maxima spokeswoman Olga Malaskeviciene told a news agency the company had launched safety checks at its 140 other stores in Latvia and plans similar reviews in Lithuania and Estonia.

"The cause remains a mystery, but it must be discovered. Obviously if a mistake was made it was a massive one," said Marite Straume, spokeswoman for the Re&Re firm that did the building work.

"The strange thing is at the time of the collapse we were replacing the heavy rocks that had been there for two winters with much lighter materials to make the garden. The roof was actually getting lighter," she told a news agency.

A photograph published by Latvia`s Diena daily showed an aerial view of the roof prior to the collapse, covered in soil, shrubbery, a children`s playground and construction material.

From Zee News

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