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Death toll rising in Latvia

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

Death toll rising in Latvia

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RIGA, Latvia (AP) – As Latvian rescue workers searched yesterday for bodies in the rubble of a supermarket collapse that killed dozens, speculation about the cause turned to possible construction flaws in the award-winning complex where builders were putting a garden and playground on the grass- and gravel-covered roof.
The death toll from the Thursday evening rush-hour roof collapse at the Maxima supermarket in Latvia’s capital had risen to at least 50, including three firefighters, police said. Spokesman Toms Sadovskis said the death toll is expected to go even higher, and that two of the dead were still unidentified.
Police opened a criminal investigation into the cause of the tragedy at the building – once vaunted as a place where high-rise residents could step out of their homes, stroll along a shady garden and pick up a couple of items for dinner.
Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs told reporters that large bags of earth and sand on a weak spot on the roof could have caused the collapse. It had rained for days, leading to speculation that the soil had become soaked and weighed down.
Deputy Mayor Andris Ameriks said that several reinforced steel beams fell over at once, which might indicate that engineers failed to properly calculate load pressure on the roof. He blamed budget cuts for a lack of construction controls.
“In recent years due to the economic crisis many institutions, including construction oversight, … were closed in Latvia in order to save money,” Ameriks told Latvian television.
An enormous crater-like hole gaped in the supermarket’s roof, while building materials were still stacked on the remaining sections.
It was the largest tragedy for the Baltic state since it regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Latvia’s government declared three days of mourning starting today.