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Germany

Death Toll Expected to Rise in Ice Rink Collapse

Recovery efforts to find at least four people trapped beneath the collapsed roof of an ice rink in the German Alps continued on Tuesday after being suspended earlier due to fears the roof might give way completely.

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Emergency workers had trouble reaching the victims

A special heavy lifting crane was being assembled on Tuesday evening so that efforts to reach a woman and three children still believed to be trapped under the roof of an ice rink in the town of Bad Reichenhall near the Austrian border could continue.

Earlier in the day, rescue efforts were suspended as the badly damaged building poses a risk for rescue crews. The fire department warned that the external walls could collapse, trapping those working in the rubble.

Local officials said the recovery operation would continue later on Tuesday once heavy lifting equipment was in place, but hopes of finding any more survivors from Monday's accident have faded.

Police on Tuesday said rescuers had recovered the bodies of 11 people, including two teenagers and six children between the ages of nine and 12. Another 18 people were taken to local hospitals for treatment for serious injury following the accident.

Asked whether there had been any signs of life from the four people believed to be still under the rubble, chief fire officer Rudi Zeif said: "No, unfortunately."

A catastrophe

"The situation is catastrophic," a Bavarian Red Cross spokesman said, adding that the recovery operation was extremely difficult.

Feuerwehrleute und Helfer des Roten Kreuzes stehen am Montag 2. Januar 2006 vor dem Eingang der Eis- und Schwimmhalle in Bad Reichenhall

Fifty people were thought to have been in the hall when the roof collapsed


The area around the rink was evacuated Monday, but rescue efforts were complicated by continued snowfall, following a blizzard that began in the early hours of Monday and reportedly dumped some 30 centimeters (12 inches) of snow on the region. Emergency personnel had difficulty reaching the hall because traffic had virtually stalled due to the snow.


The fire brigade attempted to prop up remaining sections of the roof to allow search operations in the building.

"The rescue work is proving very difficult. It is very difficult to get into the building. The roof which has collapsed can only be lifted with heavy equipment," police spokesman Fritz
Braun told n-tv television.


He declined to comment on the possible causes of the
collapse, which happened at around 4 p.m. local time, when the rink was open for public skating. At the time, some 50 people were in the hall.


Dach auf Eishalle eingebrochen Eissporthalle in Bad Reichenhall

Locals had complained for years that the rink was in need of repairs

The chairman of the local ice hockey club told German public television that local authorities had warned his team at around 3:30 p.m. that the hall was unsafe for a training session planned in the afternoon.


"Ice skating for the public evidently still went on," Thomas Rumpeltes told ZDF television.

However, in a press conference, Bad Reichenhall Mayor Wolfgang Heitmeier brushed aside accusations that the collapse of the 1970s construction was foreseeable given the weight of new fallen snow. "The warning levels hadn't been reached by Monday afternoon," he said.

No answers yet

Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber visited the disaster zone Tuesday morning and promised rapid help for the families of the victims. "We will establish a fund for the victims," Stoiber said. He also called on all of Germany to contribute to the fund.

Meanwhile Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her condolences to the families of the victims, and said Germany had been moved by the "terrible fate that particularly children and young people have suffered."

"We know it is a race against time, but we won't give up hope until all the missing have been found or recovered," she added.

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