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Couple still missing after German archive collapse

COLOGNE – Rescue efforts were being stepped up Wednesday for a couple still missing after a building containing Cologne’s historical archives and an adjacent apartment block collapsed, German officials said.

"We believe there are currently two people still missing," said Cathrin Maus, a spokeswoman for the police in the western Germany city.

The pair lived in the adjacent building, according to Stefan Raphael, a spokesman for the fire service.

Two hundred firemen are still at the scene but the rescue operation is "very complicated and extremely difficult," officials said. Rescue workers built concrete ramps to enable vehicles to reach parts of the devastated site.

"We worked through the night," Raphael told AFP.

Up to nine people were reported missing in the immediate aftermath of the collapse but several people have since been found safe and sound.

Residents and others in the neighbourhood escaped due to an alert issued just before the collapse after noises were heard coming from the archives, while a nearby school had ended classes by the time it fell.

The four-storey archive building in the west German city centre was evacuated shortly before it caved in just before 2:00 pm (1300 GMT), city hall spokesman Gregor Timmer told AFP at the scene.

Susanne Vandenberg told WDR television she was having a coffee inside the archives when people started shouting.

"We all ran out of the archives. I turned round and the front of the building started to collapse, the first windows started falling down. So I started to run. There was a huge cloud of dust behind me."

The archives housed 65,000 original documents dating from the year 922 as well as maps, films and photos and items left to the city by figures like composer Jacques Offenbach and Nobel Prize-winning author Heinrich Boell.

The building that collapsed has been in use as an archive since 1971.

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

News reports said that the disaster may have been caused by work taking place on the city’s metro line in the area, but a spokeswoman for the city said that the work had finished.

AFP / Expatica