Security concerns delay search of collapsed Riga supermarket wreckage

Security concerns delay search of collapsed Riga supermarket wreckage
Paramedics and firefighters use a stretcher to move a body from a collapsed supermarket in capital Riga

RIGA - Latvian officials on Sunday delayed a search for victims of the supermarket roof collapse that killed at least 54 people, citing safety concerns.

"Surveys have been carried out overnight to establish the safety of the building, but we must wait until we have full results before we can resume work," Interior Minstry official Ilze Petersone-Godmane told reporters, adding that controlled demolitions of unstable areas could go ahead in the afternoon.

Rescue crews had appeared to be winding down their search late Saturday when a third section of roof collapsed forcing a halt to work for reasons of safety.

Emergency medical services chief Armands Plorins said Sunday the chances of finding anyone alive were "practically speaking, zero." President Andris Berzins has demanded a swift and thorough investigation of what he said Saturday was the "mass murder of defenceless people".

Police said Sunday that seven of 13 people who had earlier been reported missing remain unaccounted for.

Part of the roof at the two-year old Maxima supermarket crashed down during peak shopping hours on Thursday.

A second collapse killed three firefighters who were among rescue teams already inside the building.

Speculation about the cause of the disaster has centred on the construction of a rooftop garden and on the possibility that building regulations may have been bent as the structure was only two years old.

The small Baltic nation of two million began a three-day mourning period on Saturday as it struggled to come to terms with its worst disaster since independence in 1991.

Latvians Sunday also marked the annual All Souls feast of the dead by lighting candles at the graves of relatives.

"For a small country like Latvia which doesn't have many people, such loss of life is like a typhoon or earthquake in other countries. But this is not an act of nature," Liene, who owns a cafe near a Riga cemetery, told AFP.

"If you watch the pictures of the roof collapsing, it all falls inwards, not to one side or the other. So it must have been because of too much weight.

There is no other explanation - the builders and architects must be responsible," she added.

"People aren't just thinking of their own families. They are thinking of other families, people they have never even met," said the young woman, who declined to provide a surname.

Flags across the country were flown with a black sash of mourning and a minute's silence is planned for Monday.

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