Polish roof collapse kills at least 60 at racing pigeon exhibition

Up to 500 people were in the exhibition center on Saturday when the roof fell in.

polish roof 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
polish roof 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Rescuers searched in bitter cold Sunday for victims buried when the roof of an exhibition hall in southern Poland collapsed on a racing pigeon show, killing at least 60 people and injuring 141. The death toll rose steadily through the early hours of Sunday as rescuers dug through the building following its collapse at around 5:30 p.m. (1630 GMT) Saturday in the city of Katowice. "Unfortunately we have more tragic information: 60 people have died," Andrzej Fiema, an official at the crisis management center organizing rescue said on TVN24 television shortly before 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) "This is information from all rescue services, so, fire, police and medical services." The hopes of finding survivors faded early Sunday after no one had been found alive since 10 p.m. (2100 GMT) Saturday in minus 17 C (1 Fahrenheit) cold. "I'm not going to hide the fact that there are victims that we are not in a state to pull out right now," said a visibly exhausted Janusz Skulich, head of the Silesia region fire brigade. "We know they aren't alive, but we can't reach them," he said. "We will be able to reach them when the whole construction will be systematically pulled down." "The likelihood that we will find people alive down there is almost zero," Skulich said on TVN24. He said "it can't be excluded" that rescuers will find the dead "over the next few days" by using special equipment to get to places they couldn't now reach. It wasn't clear how many more victims might still be under the building. Up to 500 people were in the exhibition center on Saturday when the roof fell in. People trapped in the wreckage used cell phones to call relatives or emergency services and tell them where they were. Crumpled birdcages were scattered inside the building near the entrance, and dozens of white and brown pigeons perched on the twisted rafters, their feathers ruffled against the cold. Witness Franciszek Kowal said he was inside the building when he saw the roof starting to buckle and he escaped to a terrace, then jumped about four meters (13 feet) to safety. "Luckily nothing happened to me, but I saw a macabre scene, as people tried to break windows in order to get out," Kowal told The Associated Press. "People were hitting the panes with chairs, but the windows were unbreakable. One of the panes finally broke, and they started to get out by the window." An unidentified woman with bandages around her head, a bloodied chin and scrapes on her face told TVN24 from her hospital bed that she feared one of her friends was dead. "I heard a snap like breaking matches as the roof fell on everybody. Then I heard an unbelievable scream, and then I tried to escape like everybody else," she said. "Something fell on me, I turned around, somebody stepped on me, but on my knees I was able to get out," she added. "I still don't know where some of my friends are and I haven't had any contact with them - most likely one of them is dead." Police said snow caused the roof to collapse, but an attorney for the building management disputed that, saying snow had been regularly removed and that it was too early to speculate on a cause. Some 1,300 firefighters, police officers and mine rescue workers from around the region were brought in to help. Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz flew in by helicopter and spent about 15 minutes looking over the site with rescue crews. The 10,000-square-meter (110,000 square-foot) hall in the Bytkow district of the city had been hosting the exhibition, which opened Friday. The "Pigeon 2006" fair was made up of more than 120 exhibitors, including groups from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine and Poland, according to the fair's Web site. The gathering was devoted to pigeon racing, a sport in which homing pigeons are released and race home using their sharp sense of direction. Katowice, some 300 kilometers (200 miles) south of Warsaw in a mining region, has been hit with the same heavy snow this winter that has been plaguing much of eastern and central Europe. On Friday, snow caused a town hall's roof to collapse in the southern Austrian town of Mariazell, though no injuries were reported. On Jan. 2, the snow-covered roof of a skating rink collapsed, killing 15 people, including 12 children in the German Alpine spa town of Bad Reichenhall.