In Poland, at least 20 die when roof collapses
Published: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 9:19 p.m.
KATOWICE, Poland - The snow-covered roof of a trade hall in southern Poland collapsed Saturday with as many as 500 people inside for a racing pigeon exhibition, killing at least 20 people and injuring dozens.
A priest outside the building's entrance prayed over the bodies of an adult and a child covered by a blanket and a tarp as rescue crews worked frantically to save the estimated 100 people trapped inside.
Witnesses said people beneath the wreckage were calling family or emergency services on their cell phones for help.
Franciszek Kowal escaped onto a terrace when he saw the roof starting to fall, then jumped about 15 feet to safety.
"Luckily nothing happened to me, but I saw a macabre scene, as people tried to break windows in order to get out," Kowal told The Associated Press. "People were hitting the panes with chairs, but the windows were unbreakable. One of the panes finally broke, and they started to get out by the window."
The weight of snow likely caused the roof to cave in at about 5:30 p.m., less than two hours before the event was scheduled to close for the evening, Katowice fire brigade spokesman Jaroslaw Wojtasik said.
"We have 20 dead. Among them, unfortunately, there are probably children, I can't say how many," said Krzysztof Mejer, a spokesman for the governor's office in the Silesia region.
Hundreds of firefighters responded to the scene along with search-and-rescue teams with dogs and local miner rescue teams, Wojtasik said. Some 30 people gathered in a building next to the site awaiting news of their loved ones.
Even passers-by pitched in.
Zbigniew Chmurzynski said he was on his way back from the movies with his wife when they came upon the collapse. He said he raced home to grab his Labrador retriever, then headed back to the site.
"My dog found two unconscious people," he said. "I just hope they'll survive."
Katowice police spokesman Janusz Jonczyk said temperatures were already below 14 degrees and expected to keep falling through the night.
"It could be a problem for those people who are still trapped under the wreckage," he said, adding that 88 people had been taken to hospitals for treatment and an estimated 500 people were attending the fair when the roof collapsed.
Rescue crews dug into the wreckage with saws and other equipment, using flashlights and floodlights. The firefighters also used jacks to stabilize some of the building's beams as they attempted to get to those trapped.
"Inside are people who are alive but have broken limbs or other injuries," Wojtasik said. "We can't use any heavy equipment."
Television footage showed the snarled wreckage of the collapsed metal roof and the streets lined with rescue vehicles.
"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."
An unidentified woman with bandages around her head, a bloodied chin and scrapes on her face told TVN24 from her hospital bed that she feared one of her friends was dead.
"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," she said. "Something fell on me, I turned around, somebody stepped on me, but on my knees I was able to get out. 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."
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.
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, some 200 miles south of Warsaw in a mining region, has been hit with the same heavy snow this winter that has been plaguing much of eastern and central Europe.
On Friday, snow caused a town hall's roof to collapse in the southern Austrian town of Mariazell, though 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.
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