Latvia store collapse: Death toll rises, rescuers search for survivors

At least 43 people have died after the roof of a supermarket collapsed in the Latvian capital Riga, rescuers said, upping a previous death toll.

Reuters| Last Updated: Nov 22, 2013, 20:32 PM IST

Riga (Latvia): At least 43 people have died after the roof of a supermarket collapsed in the Latvian capital Riga, rescuers said on Friday, upping a previous death toll.

"I can confirm the death toll is now 43," Viktorija Sembele, a spokeswoman for the state fire and rescue service, told a news agency. The previous toll from yesterday`s tragedy stood at 33 killed and at least 38 injured.

The tragedy shocked the small Baltic state, with the government declaring three days of mourning starting Saturday and planning to hold a moment of silence on Monday for its worst accident since regaining independence in 1991.

The roof of the Maxima supermarket smashed down on customers during peak shopping hours around 6:00 pm yesterday in the Riga suburb of Zolitude.

Rescuers rushed to the scene, but many were themselves trapped when the roof caved in a second time.

"Everything was crashing down: the walls, the roof, everything!" witness Jana told LNT television.

"I don`t know what happened to the cashiers -- if you were sitting down, there is no way you could have got out in time," she said.

Police refused to say how many people were thought to be inside the two-year-old building, and there were fears that teenagers could have been among them as a high school is near the store.

Among the dead were three firefighters who were killed trying to rescue people following the initial cave-in of the roof.

"I am proud of my Dad -- he died helping others, not thinking about himself," said a Twitter message retweeted by the fire and rescue service from a girl named Katrina whose father was among the dead.

Around 200 rescue workers, backed by military personnel, combed through the rubble through the night.

"We are working at maximum capacity but it`s a very dangerous situation in the building -- it seems likely we will have to continue working all day long," said fire chief Oskars Abolins.

Visiting the scene, Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said police had launched a criminal investigation to find the cause of the disaster.