Latvian Roof Collapse Deadliest Accident Since Country's Independence

A supermarket roof collapsed in the Latvian capital of Riga Thursday, killing at least 40 people. The collapse, which happened around 6 p.m. in Riga, also trapped dozens of other after-work shoppers under fallen rubble. About 30 of them have been hospitalized so far. Latvia, a small country that sits on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Estonia, has had a relatively nonviolent two decades since it broke free of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Baltic Times describes as the supermarket collapse as “the largest loss of life in an incident in the country since the restoration of independence.”

At least three among the dead are firefighters, who, alongside soldiers, are helping to extract survivors and the deceased. The government has also deployed cranes to remove concrete. And, in a very modern twist, rescue workers reportedly periodically turn off all noisy equipment and ask relatives to call the cell phone numbers of loved ones, in the hopes that a ringing phone could give a clue about where to dig next.

A local resident whose apartment peers out over the center told the Baltic Times that the scene was “terrible.” “Who would've thought this could happen?” she said. “This is a time when people finish work so there's many people in there. I don't believe it. Even when I look at it now, I can't believe it.”

It is not immediately clear what led to the collapse, though local media reports suggest a garden was under construction atop the roof, and may have led to structural changes. “It is clear that there has been a problem with fulfillment of construction requirements,” the country’s interior minister, Rihards Kozlovskis, told a Latvian TV station.

The accident’s death toll is expected to continue to rise. Victorija Sembele, a spokeswoman for the rescue service, told CNN that, “firefighters are still working to find people.” The collapsed area covers over 600 meters.