26 dead in grocery roof collapse in Latvia

GARY PEACH
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Rescuers work at the Maxima grocery store after its roof collapsed in Riga, Latvia, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. Latvian rescue officials say a roof at a large grocery store in the country's capital collapsed and killed several people and injuring more than a dozen people. (AP Photo/Roman Koksarov)

RIGA, Latvia (AP) — At least 26 people died, including three firefighters, after large sections of a roof collapsed at a Latvian supermarket, the country's rescue service said Friday.

The reason for the collapse on Thursday was still not known but rescue and police officials said that a winter garden, involving large amounts of soil, was being built on the roof. Rescue officials were unsure how many survivors might be under the rubble, and expected the death toll would rise.

Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis ruled out a natural disaster or terrorist activity and said that in all likelihood construction regulations had been violated and triggered the collapse.

The Fire and Rescue Service said 35 people were injured, 28 of whom were hospitalized, including 10 firefighters.

The rescue service estimated that approximately 500 square meters (5,300 square feet) of roof collapsed, destroying large sections of the store's high walls and nearly all its front windows.

A large contingent of rescue workers, including soldiers and dogs, searched for survivors Friday morning at the store in a densely populated neighborhood. Four large cranes hovered over the supermarket as they tried to lift large pieces of construction material.

Rescue workers periodically turned off all equipment and asked relatives of missing people to call so that they can pinpoint ringing phones, rescue service spokeswoman Viktorija Sembele said.

She said work was proceeding slowly since both the rubble and remaining sections of roof were like a house of cards and could easily collapse further if a wrong piece is moved or lifted.

Firefighters suffered casualties when large sections of roof fell on them right after their arrival on the scene.