RIGA, Latvia (AP) — Hordes of shoppers were picking up food after work in the Latvian capital when an enormous section of the supermarket's roof caved in. Firefighters rushed in to save them, only to be crushed themselves when a second part of the roof collapsed.
The death toll from the rush-hour disaster Thursday evening at the Maxima supermarket in Riga rose steadily through the night. As of mid-day Friday, 37 people had died, including three firefighters, emergency medical workers said.
Another 35 people were injured, with 28 of them hospitalized, including 10 firefighters struck just as they entered the unstable building, Fire and Rescue Service said.
The agency could not say how many people might be trapped under the rubble in the densely populated, working-class neighborhood between downtown Riga and the city's airport.
The reason for the collapse was still not known, but rescue and police officials said workers had been building a garden on the roof as part of the supermarket's original design.
Rescue workers kept up their round-the-clock search for possible survivors Friday, periodically turning off all equipment and asking the relatives of missing people to call so they could pinpoint ringing phones. Dozens of firefighters carefully sifted through the rubble.
Rescue service spokeswoman Viktorija Sembele said the search for survivors was proceeding slowly, since both the rubble and the remaining sections of the roof were like a house of cards that could easily collapse further if a wrong piece was moved.
About 500 square meters (5,300 square feet) of the roof collapsed, the rescue service estimated, destroying large sections of the store's high walls and nearly all its front windows. Pictures from nearby buildings showed an enormous crater-like hole in the supermarket's roof. Building materials were stacked on remaining sections of the roof.
Several large construction cranes gingerly hauled metal slabs and other debris from that gaping hole Friday, while bulldozers cleared paths into the store.
The building was completed in November 2011. The Lithuania-owned Maxima was reportedly renting the space.
Maxima officials refused to comment, saying they would release a statement later.