The director of a Moscow market where the roof collapsed, killing at least 58 people, has been detained, prosecutors said Friday, as hope faded for finding anybody alive under the rubble.
Sergei Marchenko, a spokesman for the city’s prosecutor’s office, said he could give no information on what crime the director was accused of committing. But the ITAR-Tass and Interfax news agencies said he was charged with negligence leading to deaths.
Doctors, meanwhile, fought to save the lives of more than a dozen people who were seriously injured Thursday when the roof caved in on the Basmanny market.
The bodies of 57 people have been recovered from the wreckage and one man died of his injuries on Friday, Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova said.
Officials said there was virtually no hope of finding survivors.
“Maybe there is some kind of zone where there may be people, but the probability of this is very small,” Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said outside the crumpled market, where power shovels scooped up tons of rubble and distraught people sought news of their missing relatives.
The building in Bauman district in eastern Moscow caved in at 5:45 a.m. on Thursday after an overnight snowfall in the city, which is undergoing one of its harshest winters in a generation.
President Vladimir Putin called for a “painstaking investigation” to find out down why the building collapsed.
The collapse came as vendors were setting out their stalls at the start of a national holiday. Many victims were traders from Azerbaijan and other countries in the Caucasus.
“I woke up. There was some sort of big bang and everything was in darkness,” said Halik Mamedov, 37, a herb seller who had been sleeping under a staircase in the market and managed to scramble to safety.
Mamedov estimated there were about 100 people in the market at the time while another worker who was allowed back in by emergency services told Reuters he saw bodies everywhere and put the death toll at about 55.
Terror attack seen as unlikely
Luzhkov, who went to the scene, ruled out the possibility that the disaster was an attack by Chechen militants to coincide with the armed forces national holiday.
“We can safely say that the collapse of the market’s roof is not a terrorist act,” he said, adding it probably caved in because it could not bear the weight of the snow.
Luzhkov ordered checks at all buildings with similar roofs as it emerged that the architect who helped design the roof of the market, built in the 1970s, also designed the Transvaal Park swimming pool complex, whose roof collapsed in February 2004.
Nodar Kancheli was charged in April 2005 with negligence over the roof collapse at the Transvaal Park complex which killed 28 people and injured 200. He has denied responsibility.
Kancheli said the roof had not been designed to bear a heavy load of snow, but was questioned by prosecutors on Thursday.
“I was questioned as a witness and no charges were made,” he was quoted as saying by the Itar-Tass news agency. “It seems there was a lot of snow, and nobody removed it,” the agency quoted him as saying on the radio.
The main market building came crashing down onto an area of 21,530 sq. ft., Russian news agencies said.
Heavy snow has caused roof collapses elsewhere in Europe this winter, killing 66 people at an exhibition in Katowice, Poland, and 15 in an ice rink in Bad Reichenhall, Germany.