- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 28, 2006

From combined dispatches

KATOWICE, Poland — The snow-covered roof of a trade hall in southern Poland collapsed yesterday with as many as 500 people inside for a racing-pigeon exhibition, killing at least 32 persons and injuring at least 141.

A priest outside the building’s entrance prayed over the bodies of an adult and a child covered by a blanket and a tarp as rescue crews worked frantically to save the estimated 100 people trapped inside.

Witnesses said people beneath the wreckage were calling family or emergency services on their cell phones for help.

The weight of snow likely caused the roof to cave in at about 5:30 p.m., less than two hours before the event was scheduled to close for the evening, Katowice fire brigade spokesman Jaroslaw Wojtasik said.

“Inside are people who are alive but have broken limbs or other injuries,” Mr. Wojtasik said. “We can’t use any heavy equipment.”

He estimated the rescue effort could take another 40 hours.

“We’re going to keep our hope until the end,” he said.

Hundreds of firefighters responded to the scene along with search-and-rescue teams with dogs and local miner-rescue teams, Mr. Wojtasik said. About 30 people gathered in a building next to the site awaiting news of their loved ones.

On Friday, snow caused a town hall’s roof to collapse in the southern Austrian town of Mariazell, though no injuries were reported.

On Jan. 2, the snow-covered roof of a skating rink collapsed, killing 15 persons, including 12 children in the German Alpine spa town of Bad Reichenhall.

Frigid weather left people dead and injured throughout Europe yesterday, as snow sweeping south paralyzed transportation in France, Switzerland and Italy and caused a fatal crash in Spain.

Snow warnings were issued across two-thirds of France, and the Riviera along the Mediterranean coast was battered with wind gusts up to 60 miles an hour.

Lyon airport was paralyzed by snow on Friday night. Up to 1,200 people were forced to spend the night huddling under blankets in the airport when three-quarters of incoming and outgoing flights were canceled.

Yesterday, snow forced the airport in Toulouse, France, to shut down for two hours.

Heavy snow also disrupted travel on motorways especially in central France, forcing some roads to be closed. Rail traffic was hampered in southern France, Switzerland and Northern Italy, cutting some Alpine villages off altogether.

Southern Switzerland was buried under three feet of snow after the heaviest snowfalls in 20 years, the meteorological office reported.

In eastern Spain, a bus overturned in a blizzard, killing five persons and injuring 30, police said.

Georgians, meanwhile, endured a seventh day without heating owing to an explosion that severed gas supplies from neighboring Russia.

But relief may be on the way. Work on a damaged gas pipeline between Russia and Georgia has been completed, allowing supplies to resume by today, the Kavkaztransgaz company, a subsidiary of Russian giant Gazprom, said yesterday.

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