Latvian president Andris Berzins calls supermarket building collapse 'murder'

President Andris Berzins spoke as rescue workers resumed their search for ten people still missing

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The Independent Online

The president of Latvia has described the recent collapse of a supermarket that killed at least 52 people as “murder” after rescuers resumed their search for ten missing people.

During an interview with public broadcaster LTV President Andris Berzins said: “This is a case where we need to say clearly that an enormous number of defenceless people were killed, and that's how we should proceed.

"This case must be treated as the murder of many unprotected people."

Rescue service spokeswoman Viktorija Sembele said some 300 sq m of ruins - approximately one-sixth of the total damaged area – still needed to be searched.

Ms Sembele said there was a chance more victims could be found in that area, which is particularly dangerous due to the risk of further collapse. Firefighters are working in decreased numbers in that area to minimise the chance of injury.

Rescue workers decided to stop the operation early on Saturday and consult with engineers before continuing, she said. They have been turning off their equipment at intervals and asking families of missing people to ring their phones, in case their ring tones can be pinpointed to an area in the debris.

Witnesses reported seeing people try to run out of the building when the first part of the collapse happened, only to become trapped when the supermarket's electronic doors shut, according to the BBC.

Police said some 40 people were wounded, including 13 firefighters, and 23 people are being treated in hospital for their injuries.

Latvia has begun three days of mourning since the incident, the worst the Baltic country has seen since it regained independence in 1991.

Laila Rieksta-Riekstina, head of the state's child welfare department, told Latvia Radio that 16 children lost parents in the accident. Three of them lost both parents.

Workers had been creating a garden area and children's playground on top of the building.

Preliminary reports suggest bags of soil for the garden and other building materials were left in areas of the roof according to Riga city officials, which could have contributed to the collapse.

An investigation launched by police is expected to take several weeks to complete.

Additional reporting by agencies