MOSCOW: The concave, snow-covered roof of a large Moscow market collapsed early yesterday, killing at least 48 people and forcing rescuers to clear away concrete slabs and metal beams to reach possible survivors trapped in the wreckage, officials said.
Rescue workers used metal cutters and hydraulic lifters to clear the ruins of steel and concrete. Workers used pickaxes to cut holes in the wreckage and knelt to call into the holes in search of survivors.
Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who went to the site to oversee rescue efforts, said terrorism was unlikely. "Chances are more than 90 per cent that a terrorist act can be ruled out," he told reporters. "It was a technical accident."
Twenty-nine people were injured and most of them were hospitalized, emergency officials said.
Medical workers tried to help a man trapped under a slab of concrete that left only his hand visible, giving him painkillers through an intravenous drip. Rescuers used machines to blow warm air into the rubble to try to keep victims alive in the near freezing temperatures.
Trapped survivors called relatives using mobile phones, helping rescuers find them, said Yuri Akimov, deputy head of the Moscow department of the Emergency Situations Ministry.
The victims were municipal and market workers, and Luzhkov said all the dead were workers from outside Moscow. Most Moscow markets are staffed by migrants from the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus region and Central Asia.
Russian media reported some market workers lived in the basement of the building; many migrants encounter trouble getting police permission to live in Moscow apartments.
Sniffer dogs were helping locate survivors beneath the rubble, Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov told reporters.
"There may be people alive under there but time is passing," Beltsov said, adding that many panels had fallen on top of one another "so it would be hard for a person to be (alive) in there." He said 40 people had been confirmed dead by early afternoon.
Investigators were looking at three possible causes of the collapse: Improper maintenance of the building, a buildup of snow and errors in the building's design, Moscow prosecutor Anatoly Zuyev said.
Five to eight centimetres of snow had fallen overnight, on top of 47 centimetres that had fallen since the start of winter, the Russian Weather Service said.
Ekho Moskvy radio said the entire roof, covering an area of about 2,000 square metres, had fallen onto the market stalls.
"The main task now is not to let the building collapse further," Akimov said.
Luzhkov said the roof was designed to clear itself of snow.
"The roof was designed to take a large amount of snow cover, and there was a special gutter pipe that was always left open so the melted snow could run down, so there was no special need to have the roof cleared of snow," the mayor told reporters.
Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation on charges of negligence leading to the deaths of two or more people, RIA-Novosti said.
Interfax said that the market had been designed in the 1970s by Nodar Kancheli, the same architect who drafted the plans for Moscow's Transvaal water park, where the roof collapsed in February 2004, killing 28 people. Prosecutors have blamed that collapse on design flaws.
Kancheli visited the market, one of the capital's largest, early yesterday. "I think one possibility is a big build up of snow," Kancheli told Ekho Moskvy radio. "And they set up kiosks on the mezzanine, which was not originally planned." He said that corrosion also could have played a role.
Luzhkov said that the Bauman Market, also known as the Basmany market, was among buildings designed by Kancheli's firm that had been checked for safety after the Transvaal disaster.
Source: China Daily