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Poland shuts some buildings after collapse

Poland ordered the temporary closure of some large buildings fearing their roofs may collapse in a repeat of a weekend disaster that killed 67 people.
/ Source: Reuters

The government has ordered the temporary closure of some large buildings fearing their roofs may collapse in a repeat of a weekend disaster that killed 67 people, the prime minister said on Monday.

In the country’s worst accident in nearly two decades, the roof of an exhibition hall in the southern city of Katowice caved in on Saturday during an international show of racing pigeons.

The fire brigade and police said the weight of snow on the roof of the six-year-old building caused the collapse, but representatives of the building’s co-owner and operator Expomedia said the roof had been cleared regularly.

“We want the closure of all such large buildings when a large amount of snow has built up -- experts are working to determine the level that is safe,” Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz told public radio.

The government was holding an emergency meeting on Monday, and it was expected to approve new rescue operation guidelines aimed at implementing procedures used in Katowice.

Supermarkets eyed
It was not immediately clear how many buildings — mostly exhibition halls and flat-roofed supermarkets — were shut.

British supermarket chain Tesco had to close one of its stores in the town of Bytom which, like Katowice, is part of the Silesian industrial heartland hit by heavy snow in the past few weeks.

“Right now they are clearing the roof of snow, I am not yet sure when we will re-open,” Katarzyna Zdrowiecka, a manager at the store in Bytom, told Reuters.

Government officials said that during a boom in the construction of commercial buildings in Poland in the past decade, designs from warmer climate countries such as Britain and Spain had been used, raising concern about their structural safety when snow builds up on rooftops.

Witnesses say the roof on the Katowice exhibition hall collapsed within seconds, giving no warning to the hundreds of people below.

Seven foreigners among dead
The death toll rose to 67 after one person injured in the Katowice collapse died in hospital, provincial authorities said on Monday.

Officials said seven foreigners were killed, with one German, one Belgian and one Dutch citizen among them. Nearly 140 people were injured, with about 80 in hospital for treatment.

The disaster, which has been followed by a period of national mourning until Wednesday, occurred at a volatile moment in domestic politics, with Poland teetering on the brink of a snap election.

Marcinkiewicz has called for a political truce in the wake of the tragedy, which has taken the media spotlight away from parliamentary gridlock and the ruling conservatives’ moves to bring about a second general election in six months.