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Last Updated: Monday, 30 January 2006, 04:33 GMT
Poles mourn roof collapse victims

Poland is in mourning after a trade hall collapsed on a gathering of world pigeon enthusiasts, killing at least 66 people and injuring many more.

Rescuers have now ended the search for survivors in the wreckage of the hall in Katowice, and an inquiry is underway to establish the cause of the disaster.

It is thought the roof may have collapsed under the weight of snow.

Correspondents say the country is in shock after what the president called an unprecedented catastrophe.

Foreigners including Germans and Belgians were among the 66 confirmed dead and 150 injured.

One survivor at the site on Sunday was desperately trying to find out where his son's body had been taken.

"It was his idea to come to the fair... and he found his grave there," Tadeusz Dlugosz said.

'Freezer'

President Lech Kaczynski declared three days of mourning, as Poles prayed for victims of Saturday's tragedy.

A central section of the roof collapsed at 1730 local time (1630GMT). A second collapse came more than an hour later, during rescue operations.

I am now very worried about the other buildings here made of similar construction, in particular the shopping centres
Mark Fordham, Katowice

The death toll rose as hundreds of rescuers with sniffer dogs worked through the night in bitter cold.

But by Sunday afternoon, workers said they did not expect to find any more bodies under the mangled metal hall.

"The probability that there are still victims underneath is very, very low," Katowice fire chief Kazimierz Krzowski said.

A surgeon in charge of a medical team at the site said the sheet metal of the building's remains had acted like a freezer.

As hearses drove up to the site to pick up bodies, rescuers brought out bird cages from the rubble.

Distraught relatives and survivors gathered at the site and a nearby crisis centre, to await news.

One survivor described the scenes of panic and chaos immediately after the roof collapsed.

"We heard something snap like a match breaking and people started to panic right away, realising what was happening," the unnamed survivor told private television TVN24.

Why?

The cause of the disaster is not yet certain.

Jacob Parade, a journalist with TVN24 in Poland, told the BBC the collapse was a surprise as the hall - built in the late 1990s - was so new.

The fire brigade and police said the weight of snow on the roof was responsible.

But the building's manager told Polish TV that snow had been regularly cleared from the roof, which was backed up by at least two people in BBC interviews.

Graf Pietro told the BBC the snow on the roof was not heavy, and that those responsible for clearing it had done a good job.

Another theory is that the extreme cold caused steel beams to fail.

Fifteen people died on 2 January when the roof of an ice rink collapsed in the southern German town of Bad Reichenhall amid heavy snow.

In December, at least 14 people, 10 of them children, were killed when a roof collapsed at a swimming pool in the Urals region of Russia. Snowfall was thought a possible cause.


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BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Rescue workers search in the wreckage



SEE ALSO:
Your pictures: Europe's freeze
27 Jan 06 |  In Pictures
Country profile: Poland
10 Jan 06 |  Country profiles


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