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Nine missing in archive collapse

A multi-storey building housing thousands of historical records collapsed in the German city of Cologne yesterday, injuring at least one person and possibly trapping others.

Fire services said nine people had been reported missing after the collapse of the city's historical archive and two neighbouring buildings. More than 200 rescue workers were on the scene and sniffer dogs were searching for survivors. Workers and visitors to the archive were able to flee in time after the 1970s building began making strange sounds, authorities said.

A city hall spokesperson said: "There is an eyewitness report that a married couple was seen at the window of the apartment block when it collapsed. There have also been indications that seven other people could be missing."

German media said the collapse may have been set off by work on an underground train line, though authorities could not confirm this. Nearby buildings were evacuated. TV footage showed mounds of brickwork and masonry spilling out some 30 metres on to the street.

One witness said she saw a crack appear in the facade and spread higher and higher before the building collapsed in a cloud of dust. "It was like a bad film," she told n-tv television.

The building was one of the biggest archives of its kind in Germany. It had 65,000 documents dating from the year 922, as well as maps, films and photos and items left to the city by figures such as the composer Jacques Offenbach and Nobel Prize-winning author Heinrich Boell. The archive also housed 500,000 photos chronicling life in Cologne.