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February 1, 2006

Heavy ice and snow blamed for Polish arena roof collapse

KATOWICE, Poland

Rescuers abandoned hope Sunday of finding survivors beneath the wreckage of an exhibition hall that collapsed, killing 66 people, and authorities were bringing in heavy equipment to demolish what little remained of the building.

The structure collapsed Saturday afternoon with an estimated 500 people inside, attending a pigeon racing exhibition. The last person rescued alive from the building was pulled out less than five hours later.

Rescue crews nonetheless worked through the night, using hand tools to carve through the sheet metal and snarled poles of the collapsed building so as not to risk harming any possible survivors as temperatures dropped to -17 C. On Sunday, a day after the collapse, they stopped.

“The rescue operation is over,” said Krzysztof Mejer, a spokesman for the government of the Silesia region. Thirteen rescue dogs from Poland and the neighbouring Czech Republic indicated that there were no more bodies in the debris, he said. “We don’t expect anyone else to be found in the wreckage.”

A total of 66 people were killed and 160 injured, authorities said.

Fire chief Kazimierz Krzowski said heavy machinery would be used to tear down the rest of the structure, which was built in 2000. “The parts of the structure that are not lying on the ground are a threat,” he said.

Transport Minister Jerzy Polacek told TVN24 television that the roof was covered with 45 centimetres of icy snow, which police blamed for the collapse.

However, the president of the Katowice company that organized the fair, Bruce Robinson, said that “the reasons are not clear.”

Associated Press

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