Dozen die, 50 hurt, as snow brings down exhibition hall roof

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The Independent Online

At least 12 people were killed and more than 50 injured when the roof of a crowded exhibition hall collapsed in Poland.

Rescuers warned that more bodies may be found once they had managed to cut through the wreckage of the building in the city of Katowice in the south of the country. An estimated 500 people had been attending an international pigeon racing fair yesterday at the hall when the tragedy happened.

Several hundred people were believed to have been trapped as a result of the disaster, which is being blamed on the weight of heavy snow.

This is the latest in a string of tragedies caused by roofs caving in when layers of snow build up during the winter. Experts say this latest incident raises huge concerns about the design of public buildings. On Friday, snow caused the town hall's roof to collapse in the town of Mariazell in southern Austria, although there were no reported injuries.

One of the worst accidents happened a few weeks ago at a skating rink in Bad Reichenhall in Germany when 15 people, including 12 children, died after the roof fell in. In February 2004, at least 26 people lost their lives and more than 100 were injured at the Transvaal Park indoor water park on the outskirts of Moscow when the roof crashed down on them. The collapse was so dramatic that eyewitnesses at first thought there had been an explosion.

Last night, Polish rescuers were using special equipment to cut through the wreckage of the exhibition hall so they could reach survivors. They were also expected to be joined by a specialised search team with trained dogs as well as other rescue teams from the area.

Eleven people were being treated in a hospital in nearby Sieminowice and another 40 were taken to neighbouring Chorzow for treatment.

Bozena Ferdyn, a spokesman for Katowice hospitals, said that medics were bracing themselves for casualties with more serious injuries. "Initially we had light injuries, now we have more serious ones coming in with injuries to heads, legs, arms - everything. We believe this is just the beginning," he said.

Jaroslaw Wojtasik, from the local fire brigade, warned that more people may be found dead under the wreckage.

"Unfortunately we have to say that there are some dead," he said. "It's difficult to say how many, because the situation is changing dramatically. Rescuers are reaching people who are trapped and alive and unfortunately they are also reaching some that are dead."

The accident happened just two hours before the event, which had been attended by more than 55,000 people, was due to close for the evening.

Katowice, which is about 200 miles south of Warsaw, the capital, is in a mining region and has been hit with the same heavy snow this winter that has affected much of eastern and central Europe.