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Roof Collapse Kills at Least 66 in Poland


Rescue teams are working around the clock in southern Poland Sunday where the snow-covered roof of a crowded exhibition hall collapsed, killing at least 66 people and injuring more than 100. Following the incident in the city of Katowice, the Polish president Lech Kaczynski was expected to declare a national day of mourning.

Emergency workers carrying floodlights dug between the twisted wreckage of what was the exhibition hall of Katowice in hope to find survivors. Throughout the night injured people, some of them wearing bandages around their heads, were carried away to hospitals.

But many were still trapped as up to about 1,000 people were inside the building earlier. The roof apparently collapsed under heavy snow.

The 10,000-square-meter hall had been hosting the racing pigeon exhibition, which opened Friday. The "Pigeon 2006" expo was made up of over 120 exhibitors, including groups from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine and Poland.

Officials said several foreigners were among the dead and injured. Those who survived, including witness Francis Nolmans from Belgium, recalled terrifying moments.

"Suddenly the roof began to crack," he said. "It came down as a wave. There were people sitting in the middle of the hall and most likely they will be in the worst situation. All people from our exhibit and most other Belgians I knew, all together about 50, have reported they are safe now, so I hope at least with them everything is fine."

Another Belgian man, Hubert De Ceuninck, said his team of exhibitors barely survived. They were walking away just before the roof collapsed on the area where they stood.

He said "We had an exhibition in the middle of the hall and because it was quiet we decided to look to the other exhibits. That was what saved us because our area is completely gone. But a Polish woman who translated for us has not been found yet."

De Ceunink explains that they were told by the fire brigade workers that the loud music of a huge orchestra may have "added to the vibrations of the already snow covered roof, which eventually collapsed."

Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz flew in by helicopter and spent about 15 minutes to encourage rescue teams, whose work was hampered by snow and temperatures of up to 20 degrees below zero.

The President's Office said Polish President Lech Kaczynski would proclaim a day of national mourning.

Poland is experiencing its coldest winter in several decades and the death toll from the cold this winter stood at around 200. There have been similar incidents with buildings elsewhere in Europe.

On Friday, snow caused a town hall's roof to collapse in the southern Austrian town of Mariazell, though no injuries were reported. And on January 2 the snow-laden roof of a skating rink collapsed, killing 15 people, including 12 children in the German Alpine spa town of Bad Reichenhall.

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