Though Saturday's cave-in injured no one, it revealed how unstable the building remains. Investigators have looked at faulty work on the roof as potential causes of Thursday's collapse at the Maxima supermarket in Riga, the capital. Workers had begun installing a garden for an adjacent high-rise building as shoppers walked the aisles of the crowded supermarket below.
"This is a case where we need to say clearly it is the murder of an enormous number of defenseless people, and that's how we should proceed," President Andris Berzins said on Latvian television Saturday, though he did not single anyone out. He called for an investigation to prevent those responsible from covering up a paper trail and "coming off as pure as angels."
Police Chief Ints Kuzis gave three possible reasons for the collapse: poor structural analysis, ongoing construction or poor planning. Officials excluded natural catastrophe or terrorism.
On Saturday, five Latvian construction firms claimed that their work had nothing to do with the roof's collapse. In a joint statement, they claimed their work fell in line with Latvian regulations.
They announced that independent experts would launch a "thorough investigation of all possible causes." According to the firms, inspectors carried out an examination of the building, roof included, on November 19, two days before the collapse and found "no violations."
Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis had spoken of possible code violations. Pictures show that workers had left a large amount of building materials, including bags of soil for the garden, in areas of the roof that Riga city officials say could have proved vulnerable to heavy loads.
Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman Viktorija Sembele said Saturday's collapse occurred as responders continued searching for survivors elsewhere in the building. Though Saturday's collapse injured no one, the service has temporarily stopped rescue operations.
"Much of the site has been checked but the structures that remain include some of the largest, heaviest blocks which are particularly dangerous," Sembele told the news agency AFP.
Officials have confirmed 53 deaths. The collapse also injured about 40 people, including 13 firefighters who rushed to the scene and found themselves crushed in a second cave in. Twenty-three people remained hospitalized as of Saturday afternoon, police said.
Latvia in mourning
The government declared three days of mourning starting Saturday. Latvians have laid flowers and lit candles at the site and flown flags with black sashes attached from their homes.
Police have launched an investigation, which could take several weeks to complete.
On Saturday, Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs wrote on Twitter that the city would raze the supermarket's ruins and build a monument to the victims after the investigation. He also suggested that the city might tear down the incomplete residential building.
mkg/dr (AFP, dpa, AP)