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21 Nov, 2013 19:59

At least 54 dead after Latvia mall collapse (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Fifty-four people have been killed and dozens injured after the roof of a large store collapsed in Latvia’s capital, Riga. Latvian President Andris Bеrzins called for an immediate investigation into what he called the “murder of unprotected people.”

Rescue teams have halted their efforts to find any survivors in the rubble of the Maxima XX store in Riga’s Zolitude residential neighborhood, Latvian authorities said.

“We have decided to suspend work. There are zero chances of finding survivors,” Interior Ministry official Ilze Peterson-Godmane told reporters.

At least 13 people are still considered missing following the tragedy.

Two days after the collapse, no survivors have been rescued from the rubble in what has been described as the deadliest such incident in the Baltic state. A 3-day-long national mourning for the victims of the collapse was announced in Latvia beginning on Saturday.

Some 500 square meters of roof caved in at the store’s building on Thursday night, trapping 70 people, according to Riga’s mayor Nils Ušakovs. The initial collapse in Riga’s densely populated area was followed by a second cave-in just as the first responders at the scene were helping the victims. Three rescuers and firefighters were killed by the second collapse.

Latvian President Andris Bērziņš has called for an immediate investigation into the disaster, saying that it should be treated as “the murder of many unprotected people” in comments to local broadcaster LTV. Bērziņš lashed out at the construction firm that was building a residential compound that included the store, saying that it was already trying to shun all responsibility for the collapse. 

The Maxima shopping mall on Priedaines Street in Riga after its roof caved in. (RIA Novosti/Oksana Dzhadan)

The government should also take part of the blame for the tragedy as it failed to provide for its citizens’ safety, one of the fundamental human rights, Latvian ombudsman Juris Janson said Saturday.

“I think that discussions on liability are unnecessary. The law proves that the state should bear responsibility for such tragedies,” Janson said.

Two Russian citizens, a man and a woman, were among the victims of the Maxima store collapse, the Latvian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday. Both had Latvian residence permits. A female Armenian citizen was also killed in the disaster, the ministry said.

At least one child has suffered a moderate head injury and has been hospitalized along with dozens of victims, RIA Novosti reports. Latvia will be in official mourning from November 23-25.

While the cause is currently unknown, Riga Vice Mayor Andry Ameriks refuted earlier eyewitness reports of an explosion and attributed the incident to a likely construction fault.

“Probably, mistakes were made by construction workers, which led to the collapse of the building,” Ameriks  said. “The building collapsed completely. Now, all the rescue services are working at the scene. The most important thing now are the lives of the people.” 

Traģēdijā 'Maximā' gājis bojā glābējs; miruši jau trīs cilvēki.ахереть..Рига ,Я теперь в максиму спокойно не зайду... pic.twitter.com/QAtyZonStA

— Сергей Юртаев (@SergioYurtaev) November 21, 2013

Maxima shopping center on Priedaines Street in Riga after its roof caved in. (RIA Novosti / Oksana Dzhadan)

A total of 400 people were working at the scene including local and state police, some local home guards and at least 17 units of medics as well as 13 fire brigades. Soldiers of the National Armed Force also helped look for the victims with dog units. Another 40 soldiers were sent from the army garrison, local media reports. 

Council official Juris Radzevics confirmed that the roof of the supermarket, built in 2011, was in the process of being turned into a green area. 

"The project was submitted in accordance with all regulations but of course we will be looking at whether materials and work were [of] the proper standards," Mr Radzevics told Latvian television. 

Police are looking into several possible reasons for one of the worst building collapses in the Latvian capital: 
Constructions work on the roof, as witnesses told the media, a winter garden was been built there; secondly, faults in the building’s original design; and builders using the roof to keep building materials, which then collapsed because of the excess weight. 

RIA Novosti / Oksana Dzhadan

RIA Novosti / Oksana Dzhadan

The collapsed roof of a store is pictured in Riga November 21, 2013. (Reuters/Ints Kalnins)

People gather near lit candles around a collapsed supermarket in Riga November 23, 2013. (Reuters/Ints Kalnins)