- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2004

MOSCOW — Russian rescue workers yesterday pumped warm air into the ruins of an indoor water park, hoping the heat would help victims survive a day after the roof collapsed, killing at least 25 persons and injuring more than 100.

As many as 17 persons are missing, presumably buried under the debris of the Transvaal Park on Moscow’s southwestern outskirts, officials said. There were 27 children among those hospitalized.

A child’s birthday party was being held in the pool area when the roof collapsed, said Moscow police spokesman Kirill Mazurin.

The search for survivors continued even though Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said late yesterday there was virtually no chance of finding anyone alive under the rubble.

Rescuers shoveled snow from the tangled mass of steel and concrete, some standing atop a large stone that appeared to be part of a mock tropical scene.

Initial reports said an explosion caused the collapse Saturday night, but Mr. Luzhkov and other officials said there was no evidence of a blast. The city has been on edge since a deadly Feb. 6 subway bombing that President Vladimir Putin blamed on Chechen rebels.

The collapse left a hole the size of a football field in the glass-and-concrete roof. Cranes yesterday lifted heavy chunks of concrete, metal beams and giant buckets of broken building materials.

With temperatures in the teens, rescuers used generators to pump heat into the area to increase the chances of survival. Periodically, they ordered moments of silence to listen for signs of life.

Investigators said a heavy buildup of snow, the stresses caused by the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, and seepage into the concrete supports may have led to the disaster.

Moscow prosecutor Anatoly Zuyev said faulty construction or maintenance was probably to blame. He said prosecutors were opening a criminal investigation into possible negligence.

They were questioning managers of the park, its architects, engineers and builders, and would also talk to witnesses, Mr. Zuyev said. He said pieces of the wreckage would be tested.

The state organization in charge of construction, Gosstroi, suspended the licenses of the Turkish company that built the park, Kocak Insaat, and the Russian architectural firm that designed it, the Interfax news agency reported.

Statements about the death toll varied. Mr. Luzhkov said 24 bodies had been pulled from the rubble and one person had died in a hospital.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said 17 persons were believed missing, a figure apparently based on belongings left unclaimed at the swimming pool area.

Asked if there was a chance any could have survived, Mr. Luzhkov said, “Unfortunately, no.”

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