Couple feared dead after German archive collapse

5th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Hundreds of firemen were still on the scene Wednesday with sniffer dogs searching the wreckage of the building that collapsed suddenly the day before.

Cologne -- Two people and over 1,000 years of history were feared lost Wednesday as hundreds of rescue workers sifted through the rubble of a collapsed archive building in the German city of Cologne.

Two people, apparently buried in an adjacent building, are almost certainly dead but no others are missing at present, authorities from the historic city in western Germany told reporters.

"The chances of pulling someone alive from the rubble are around zero," the fire chief, Stephan Neuhoff, told a news conference.

"We are delighted that the number of people missing at the moment has not increased ... there are still two people missing,” said chief city administrative officer Guido Kahlen. "We cannot guarantee a quick rescue given the difficulty of the situation and therefore the chances of successfully rescuing people are declining."

Efforts to save the pair were being hampered as rescue workers have been unable to stabilise surrounding buildings, despite pouring in 300 cubic metres (11,000 cubic feet) of concrete overnight in a bid to secure the area.

More than 200 firemen were still on the scene with sniffer dogs searching the wreckage of the building which collapsed suddenly just before 1300 GMT Tuesday.

Officials also fear that irreplaceable historical artefacts and 1,000-year-old documents could be lost, as well as items bequeathed by figures like composer Jacques Offenbach and Nobel prize winning author Heinrich Boell.

The archives housed 65,000 original documents dating from the year 922, as well as maps, films and photos.

There are 30 kilometres (20 miles) of shelving containing the archives' treasures, Georg Quander, head of the cultural affairs department in Cologne said.

The archives are the not just the biggest collection in Germany but "the most significant north of the Alps," he said.

The biggest danger to the archives is rainwater, Quander said. Workers at the scene were hastily erecting tarpaulins in a bid to protect the documents.

Quander added that it was too early to assess the extent of the damage to the cultural treasure trove.

Officials hailed the "extraordinary co-operation" between emergency services that enabled the building to be evacuated within three minutes, preventing further casualties.

"I escaped from the second floor with my girlfriend by running along a corridor that was starting to split in two," Heiko Wegener, a resident who lived next door to the archive building told public television station NTV. "I then managed to free the people on the first floor."

Emergency services also managed to evacuate some 70 residents at a retirement home as well as children from a neighbouring school.

The cause of the collapse remained unclear but the former director of the archives, Eberhard Illner, said cracks had appeared in the building in recent weeks.

This was a "foreseeable catastrophe," he said.

News reports said that the disaster may have been caused by work taking place on the city's metro line in the area. However, city officials confirmed that this work had finished a long time ago.


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