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Latvia supermarket collapse is a murder case, says president

RIGA: Latvian President Andris Berzins said Saturday a supermarket cave-in that claimed at least 52 lives should be viewed as a murder case.
“This case must be treated as the murder of many unprotected people,” the president told the public LTV broadcaster, calling for Thursday’s disaster in the capital Riga to be “investigated at maximum speed.”
Investigators and rescuers combed the ruins of the Riga supermarket for clues and bodies Saturday after its roof crashed down on shoppers, killing at least 52.
Hope was dwindling of finding any survivors two days after the roof of the Maxima supermarket caved in and the small Baltic state began mourning the victims of its worst disaster since independence in 1991.
As horrific accounts of the tragedy emerged from some of the 40 people known to have survived, anger and suspicion mounted over the causes of Europe’s third deadliest roof collapse in 30 years.
“I was queueing at the cash desk when the roof suddenly caved in. It all happened within a few seconds,” 19-year-old Antons Ryakhin, saying “about 100 people” had been inside with him.
“It was dark but still light enough to see the exit. I ran out. The doors were open, but a lot of rubble fell in front of them — I think that’s why some people couldn’t get through.”
Riga mayor Nils Usakovs said Friday five people were feared trapped inside but it was unclear how many were still believed to be missing.
“Much of the site has been checked but the structures that remain include some of the largest, heaviest blocks which are particularly dangerous,” fire and rescue service spokeswoman Viktorija Sembele told AFP.
Police investigators were seen sifting through the rubble alongside rescuers. The latest body was hauled from the mass of tangled steel and concrete at 6 a.m.
Speculation has centerd on the extra weight created by a rooftop garden and playground and on the possibility that building regulations may have been bent. “It’s probably the same old story — do it cheap and pocket the difference. But it is ordinary people who pay the real price,” Riga taxi driver Arsenijs Smirnovs told AFP.
Maxima spokeswoman Olga Malaskeviciene told AFP the company had launched safety checks at its 140 other stores in Latvia and plans similar reviews in Lithuania and Estonia.
“The cause remains a mystery, but it must be discovered. Obviously if a mistake was made it was a massive one,” said Marite Straume, spokeswoman for the Re&Re firm that did the building work.
“The strange thing is at the time of the collapse we were replacing the heavy rocks that had been there for two winters with much lighter materials to make the garden. The roof was actually getting lighter,” she told AFP.
A photograph published by Latvia’s Diena daily showed an aerial view of the roof prior to the collapse, covered in soil, shrubbery, a children’s playground and construction material.

“Visually the building looked great but it is more important to get the technical engineering right than the looks,” Sergejs Meierovics of the Latvian association of building engineers told AFP.