Ice rink victims 'were killed by roof, not cold'

6th January 2006, Comments 0 comments

6 January 2006, BAD REICHENHALL, GERMANY - A pathology report in Germany said Thursday that 12 children and three women who died this week in the collapse of an ice-rink roof were all killed by their injuries, not the freezing cold.

6 January 2006

BAD REICHENHALL, GERMANY - A pathology report in Germany said Thursday that 12 children and three women who died this week in the collapse of an ice-rink roof were all killed by their injuries, not the freezing cold.

The finding calmed fears that some of the skaters might still have been alive and overseen as rescuers vainly battled amid falling snow, sometimes with their bare hands, to clear the wobbly wreckage heaped on the rink Monday night.

A five-year-old girl was pulled alive from the rubble six hours after the collapse when she attracted attention by knocking.

Autopsies established that all the fatalities died from their injuries shortly after the roof fell in.

"None died of exposure," said prosecutions spokesman Volker Ziegler, who is part of a negligent-homicide inquiry expected to last till April. "First we have to discover why it fell down. Thereafter can we study whether anyone is personally culpable," he said.

The last of the 15 bodies, a 40-year-old mother, could not be recovered till before dawn Thursday after giant grabs had lifted away the wooden beams. In all, 34 persons survived, some badly injured.

The owner of the covered ice-rink meanwhile denied that engineers had previously noticed a weakness in the roof.

The rink was part of a municipal athletics and pool complex at Bad Reichenhall on the Austrian border. Mayor Wolfgang Heitmeier has been under pressure all week over claims that the town council ignored warnings that the 32-year-old structure had deteriorated.

Debate on the lessons of the tragedy continued, with Germany's federal construction minister, Wolfgang Tiefensee, calling on the 16 states to consider regular safety checks of public buildings. The states are to meet February 6 on the issue.

Currently it is the duty of owners of German buildings to keep them safe, since they can be sued for any harm caused.

Although all missing persons have now been accounted for, 200 emergency services workers continued Thursday stripping all the rubble off the former ice-rink. County chief executive Georg Grabner said this was just in case someone had been forgotten.

Police said they would maintain a round-the-clock guard on the site for several more days as investigators gather evidence. Debris is being numbered and stored on a nearby army base.

By Thursday, more than 5,000 internet visitors, many of them abroad, had written messages of condolence in the Bad Reichenhall online visitor's book. Others queued to write in a paper condolence book at the town hall or place candles on the square outside.

The strain was telling Thursday on mayor Heitmeier, with some people blaming him personally for the tragedy. Residents said this week that the whole community knew the ice-rink facility was "run- down".

He disclosed Thursday passages from a report compiled in 2003 by a Bad Reichenhall engineering consultancy which stated that the strength of the wood-beam roof had not been affected by moisture.

"The load-bearing structure is generally in good condition," the report said.

Unusually soggy, heavy snow hit the Salzburg urban area, of which Bad Reichenhall is a part, and at least two other wide-span roofs collapsed under its weight this week. But investigators do not yet know why the ice-rink's flat roof failed to hold the load.

Mayor Heitmeier has insisted all week that the only deterioration in the complex previously noticed by the council was in the rink's refrigeration system and the swimming-pool toilets. Like most German municipal leisure facilities, the complex operated at a loss.

The Monday snowfall also caused an avalanche near Bad Reichenhall that killed three people. The third body, of a 25-year-old man, was recovered from the Reiter Alm mountainside on Thursday. All three had been part of a party of 12 exploring the area in snowshoes.

DPA

Subject: German news

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