Polish roof collapse kills at least 32
KATOWICE, Poland – A weekend afternoon at a racing pigeon show became a nightmare of debris, trapped victims and frantic rescuers as the snow-laden roof of a southern Polish exhibition hall collapsed with a sound like splintering wood.”I heard a snap like breaking matches as the roof fell on everybody. Then I heard an unbelievable scream, and then I tried to escape like everybody else,” one woman told Polish television from her hospital bed.Rescue crews worked frantically through the night in subfreezing temperatures after hundreds of firefighters rushed to the scene, along with search-and-rescue teams with sniffer dogs, local miner rescue teams and passers-by, including one man who ran home to get his Labrador Retriever.Blocked escape”People were hitting the panes with chairs, but the windows were unbreakable,” said Franciszek Kowal, who jumped about 15 feet to safety after fleeing to an outside terrace. “One of the panes finally broke, and they started to get out by the window.”Witnesses said people trapped beneath the wreckage called family or emergency services on their cell phones for help. Dozens gathered in a building next to the site awaiting news of their loved ones.Krzysztof Mejer, a spokesman for the government of the Silesia region, said at least 32 had died and 141 were injured.As many as 500 people were inside during the collapse.”My dog found two unconscious people,” said Zbigniew Chmurzynski, who was on his way back from the movies with his wife when they came upon the collapse. “I just hope they’ll survive.”Rescue crews dug into the wreckage with saws and other equipment, using flashlights and floodlights. Firefighters also used jacks to stabilize some of the building’s beams as they attempted to get to those trapped.Rescue teams called for silence periodically so they could listen for signs of life.”Inside are people who are alive but have broken limbs or other injuries,” Katowice fire brigade spokesman Jaroslaw Wojtasik said. “We can’t use any heavy equipment.”He estimated the rescue effort could take another 40 hours.”We’re going to keep our hope until the end,” he said.A priest outside the building’s entrance prayed over the bodies of an adult and a child covered by a blanket and a tarp.The weight of snow likely caused the building’s metal roof to cave in at about 5:30 p.m., less than two hours before the event was scheduled to close for the evening, Wojtasik said.Temperatures dropped to 1 degree overnight and were expected to keep falling.”It could be a problem for those people who are still trapped under the wreckage,” Katowice police spokesman Janusz Jonczyk said.Fire brigade chaplain Capt. Henryk Kuczob, a Roman Catholic priest, said he gave last rites to one of the injured, a 50-year-old man who later died.”A second man was taken to the hospital,” Kuczob said. “His 13-year-old daughter is dead, but he doesn’t know that yet. He’s in shock.””There are still a lot of people trapped in there, some half-frozen.”The “Pigeon 2006″ fair was made up of more than 120 exhibitors, including groups from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine and Poland, according to the fair’s Web site.’Just the beginning'”Initially we had light injuries, now we have more serious ones coming in with injuries to heads, legs, arms – everything,” Katowice hospitals spokesman Bozena Ferdyn said. “We believe this is just the beginning.”The woman speaking from her hospital bed, who was not identified, told TVN24 that she feared one of her friends was dead.I still don’t know where some of my friends are and I haven’t had any contact with them – most likely one of them is dead,” she said.Grzegorz Slyszyk, who said he was an attorney for building management, said the structure, built in 2000, could not have collapsed from the snow because excess snow was regularly cleared from the roof.”The snow was last removed two weeks ago, and since then there hasn’t been much snow,” he said. “Definitely, it’s too early to speculate on a cause.”The Jan. 27-29 fair was expecting a total of some 55,000 guests, customers and visitors. A spokeswoman for the fair did not answer her phone.Katowice, in a mining region some 200 miles south of Warsaw, has been hit with the same heavy snow that has been plaguing much of eastern and central Europe this winter.On Friday, snow caused a town hall’s roof to collapse in the southern Austrian town of Mariazell. No injuries were reported.On Jan. 2, the snow-covered roof of a skating rink collapsed, killing 15 people, including 12 children in the German Alpine spa town of Bad Reichenhall.