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Germany

Ice Rink Death Toll Rises to 15

Police have begun a criminal investigation into the collapse of an ice skating rink roof in the southern German town of Bad Reichenhall, which took the lives of 15 people, including 12 children.

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The last registered missing person was pulled out of the rubble on early Thursday morning

Rescue workers pulled the body of a woman from the debris of a collapsed ice rink in the German Alps overnight, bringing the death toll from the tragedy to 15, police said early Thursday.

On Wednesday, the bodies of two boys and a girl had been recovered from the rubble from Monday's disaster in the Bavarian spa resort of Bad Reichenhall, caused when the rink's roof collapsed under heavy snow.

Of the 15 victims -- no one else is thought to remain under the debris -- 12 were children or teenagers. The other three victims were women aged around 40.

Thirty-four people were also hurt when the roof collapsed. Thirteen of them remained in hospital but their lives were not in danger, German radio said.

A police investigation

The ruins of the ice rink are now being carefully cleared with specialized diggers. But the process is slow, as each chunk of rubble must be collected and numbered as part of an investigation into the cause of the collapse.

BdT Schnee in Deutschland

Was snow to blame?

"The criminal police is carrying out a full investigation and gathering relevant information they can," said the region’s police chief, Hubertus Andrä.

"Two people, who were previously still in shock, are now in the position to be questioned in the investigation. They will be interviewed in the course of the day," Andrä said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the flat roof of the building to cave in, in a region where heavy snowfall is commonplace. Der Tagesspiegel newspaper cited meteorologists on Wednesday as saying there must have been about 180 tons of snow on the roof when it gave way.

A case of negligence?

The events leading up to the collapse of the roof remained unclear on Wednesday.

The coach of a local ice hockey club, Thomas Rumpeltes, has said he was told the snow was to have been cleared from the roof shortly before it caved in.

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

Rescue efforts were often interrupted by bad weather

Rumpeltes said he had cancelled practice at the rink for a youth team because the authorities had told him of the impending clearance shortly before the accident. He said no one had warned of any risk of the roof being unstable and that the snow removal was only a precautionary measure.

The town's mayor, Wolfgang Heitmeier, has rejected accusations of negligence for allowing the rink to remain open, saying the roof had been examined hours before it collapsed and the amount of snow on it was within safety limits. He rejected speculation that the authorities knew of structural problems and said he "could not explain" what caused the collapse.

Reactions to the accident

Bavaria's regional interior ministry on Wednesday rejected calls for safety certificates for buildings. It said the cause of the accident needed to be determined before measures could be taken.

The tragedy occurred on Monday shortly before the rink was due to close for the day.

Grieving residents are calling for those responsible to be identified and punished and messages of condolence are flooding into the town's Web site.

Pope Benedict XVI, who was born in the state of Bavaria, where the accident happened, sent a telegram to the Archbishop of Munich on Wednesday to convey his condolences. He said his thoughts were with relatives "after this tragic accident which cost the lives mostly of children," and wished the injured a speedy recovery.

According to local radio, a memorial service will be held Tuesday.

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