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Latvia Starts Three Days of Mourning as Roof Collapse Kills 52

Latvia started a three-day period of mourning after at least 52 people died when a supermarket roof collapsed in Riga two days ago, as police probed the country’s worst accident since it regained independence in 1991.

Rescue workers at the Maxima XX supermarket in the Zolitude district of the capital continue to excavate the site, where the roof collapsed on Nov. 21 at about 6 p.m. Police spokesman Toms Sadovskis said by phone that 52 people had died.

Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis said a criminal investigation has been opened, and police are questioning witnesses and working with technical experts from universities. Maxima Group, the biggest retailer in the Baltic states, said it rents the site and construction work it wasn’t involved with was taking place in the roof and underground parking area.

One theory “is that there was a violation in construction regulation,” while another is that the work on the roof prompted the collapse, Kazlovskis said on Latvian television.

The period of mourning will include three minutes of silence on Nov. 25. Some 16 children lost at least one parent in the disaster and three children lost both parents, Laila Rieksta Riekstina, director of the state inspectorate of children’s rights, said on Latvijas Radio today.

“The task of the Latvian police will be to find out who is guilty, but at the same time I think that this field’s specialists, obviously after this tragedy, will have to come to a conclusion and fix the supervision,” Kazlovskis said.

The roof collapsed after an alarm designed to detect fire, smoke and dust rang repeatedly in the basement where a parking area was under construction, Maxima said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Maxima runs 499 supermarkets in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria and Poland. It rents the premises from SIA Tinio.

“This is a heavy day for all of Latvia,” Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said on Latvian television last night.

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