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February 3, 2006

Collapsed roof may be flawed

KATOWICE, Poland

A designer of the Polish exhibition hall whose roof collapsed killing 63 people attempted unsuccessfully to commit suicide two days after the accident, an official said Wednesday.

The man “certainly has information that could help determine the cause” of the catastrophe, said Tomasz Tadla, a spokesman for prosecutors in the southern Polish city of Katowice.

Tadla, who was speaking on TVN24 television, did not identify the man and declined to give details.

Investigators have suggested the collapse of the roof could be a direct result of building design and construction errors, not snow and ice load. Built six years ago, the International Exhibition Hall was part of the Expocenter.

In an interview with Radio Polonia’s Michal Kubicki, Professor Marian Giejowski of Warsaw’s University of Technology said it is unlikely that the collapse was due snow build-up alone.

“Collapses of building structures are very rare. There is almost never a single factor behind such events,” Giejowski said. “To my knowledge the snow was not the only factor contributing to the disaster.”

The Exhibition Hall measured 102 metres long, 97 metres wide and 11 metres high. Its flat roof was estimated to be capable of holding two-and-a-half thousand tons of snow and ice, as much as three times the requirements of building codes.

One clue to the cause of roof failure is the speed at which a roof collapses. The Exhibition Hall roof collapsed within seconds. In the Radio Polonia interview, Professor Giejowski points out “steel structures are generally very safe because they show the signs of collapse.

“The collapse is never a rapid event. The collapse of the roof in Katowice was a sudden event and so it gives me a lot of food for thought. I would not neglect the reason resulting from design and execution errors.”

In the wake of the tragedy, Poland’s Interior Minister ordered that all large-surface flat roofs on super markets, shopping centres and sports facilities in Poland be inspected and cleared of snow and ice.

DCN Staff with files from Associated Press

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