Monday, January 30, 2006

Katowice roof collapse: five reports

Największa polska katastrofa budowlana: zmarła 67. ofiara

Józef Krzyk, Przemysław Jedlecki, Marcin Pietraszewski

Gazeta 30-01-2006

66 zabitych ludzi odnaleziono w rumowisku chorzowskiej hali. Nie wiadomo, ile jest jeszcze ofiar pod zwałami blachy i śniegu. Hektar dachu runął w sobotnie popołudnie na międzynarodową wystawę gołębi. W poniedziałek rano w szpitalu w Tychach zmarł mężczyzna - 67. ofiara katastrofy0-->
Katastrofa nastąpiła w sobotę o 17.15. W największym pawilonie Międzynarodowych Targów Katowickich (o wymiarach 97 m x 102 m) było wtedy co najmniej pół tysiąca osób. Z wysokości 11 metrów stalowe elementy spadały wprost na hodowców gołębi i zwiedzających. Środek dachu się zapadł, tworząc przy ścianach tunele . To wszystko nie trwało dłużej niż kilkanaście sekund. Uratowali się ci, którzy zdążyli dobiec do ściany lub stanąć pod stalowymi filarami. Te ustały, choć powyginały się, jakby były zrobione z tektury.Jerzy Kotryk, mieszkający w Neuburgu Polak, przyjechał na wystawę z 37-letnim synem. - Biegliśmy obok siebie, ja w jedną stronę, on w drugą, on zginął, zginął - powtarzał nam w szoku.Jak się nieoficjalnie dowiadujemy, kłopoty z dachem były już wcześniej - zalegający śnieg go wygiął. - Nie chcę tego komentować. Ale z tego, co słyszałem, to dach uginał się w tym roku - powiedział nam Jan Hoppe, przedsiębiorca, dziś wiceprezes Regionalnej Izby Gospodarczej w Katowicach, który miał udziały w spółce, gdy hala powstawała.W godzinę po wypadku pracowało już kilkuset strażaków, ratowników z psami wyszkolonymi do wyszukiwania przysypanych ludzi. Z rumowiska dobiegały dzwonki telefonów komórkowych i wołania o pomoc, ale stopniowo ucichły. W świetle strażackich reflektorów widać było tylko wzlatujące nad ruinami zdezorientowane gołębie. Czekały na sygnał od swych właścicieli.Z każdą chwilą robiło się mroźniej i szanse na odnalezienie żywych ludzi malały. Kilkunastu psychologów i kilku księży przyjechało, by pomóc rodzinom ofiar, ale także ratownikom. - Zdążyłem udzielić pięciu rannym sakramentu namaszczenia, jeden chwilę potem zmarł - mówił ksiądz Henryk Kuczob, kapelan straży pożarnej.Gdy w sobotę ok. 22 przyjechał premier Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz akurat wyciągano z ruin ostatnią uratowaną osobę. W niedzielę po godz. 14 prezydent Lech Kaczyński ogłosił żałobę narodową obowiązującą od 16 (chwilę wcześniej skończył się turniej skoków narciarskich w Zakopanem ). Rząd i Kancelaria Prezydenta przekazały po milionie złotych na pomoc dla rodzin ofiar. Pomoc w akcji ratunkowej zadeklarowały władze Niemiec i Izraela, ale Polacy nie skorzystali z niej.Z każdą godziną wzrastała liczba odnalezionych ciał. W niedzielę po południu ratownicy wydobyli ich już 66, w tym troje dzieci: chłopców - siedmioletniego i jedenastoletniego - oraz dziesięcioletnią dziewczynka. W poniedziałek rano w szpitalu w Tychach zmarł mężczyzna - 67. ofiara katastrofy. Wśród ofiar są obcokrajowcy: Niemiec, dwóch Słowaków, dwóch Czechów i Belg. Rannych jest 140 osób, w tym 13 obcokrajowców, głównie Czechów i Niemców.Gospodarze hali - szefowie Międzynarodowych Targów Katowickich - na miejsce przyjechali dopiero w niedzielę. Byli na konferencji w Hiszpanii. Wieczorem nie chcieli potwierdzić zarzutów, że nie zadbali o odśnieżenie dachu.Biegli szacują, że w chwili tragedii na dachu zalegało 2500 ton śniegu i lodu, co daje ok. 167 kg na metr kwadratowy (dach miał ok. 15 tys. m). Polskie normy dopuszczają 70-80 kg.


Świadkowie tragedii: Myśleliśmy że to koniec

"Nowy Dzień", jk, Dariusz Brzostek, jkś

Gazeta 29-01-2006 [first of three parts, only]


Rozmawiałem z ojcem, który został przewieziony do szpitala. - opowiada Henryk Kuczob, kapelan strażaków - Pytał o swoją trzynastoletnią córkę. Nie wiedział, że zginęła, a ja nie miałem odwagi mu o tym powiedzieć.


Henryk Musioł, uratowany hodowca gołębi -
To był fajny festyn. Z 10 minut wcześniej przeszedłem się po wystawie 10 minut. Może było z 500-800 osób. Ludzie siedzieli rozmawiali, podjadali. Skończyła grać kapela gdy nagle coś zatrzeszczało. Zobaczyłem jak tony żelastwa spadają na mnie. Nie było gdzie się schronić. Wokół mnie betonowa podłoga. Żadnej niszy, czegoś na czym ten beton by się zatrzymał. Zrobiłem krok i to był chyba najważniejszy krok w życiu.Jeden dźwigar grubszy niż ja spadł za mną, drugi taki sam przede mną. Tam gdzie stałem przedtem dach był leżał na płasko na podłodze. Gdybym się nie ruszył - byłbym zmiażdżony. Dostałem czymś w twarz, w łopatkę, w kolano, ale nie straciłem przytomności sprawdziłem, że nic nie mam złamane. Taka rura plastikowa, chyba odwadniająca docisnęła mnie i początkowo nie mogłem się ruszyć. Żeby sięgnąć po komórkę musiałem się rozebrać!Zadzwoniłem do żony. Wiedziała chyba jako pierwsza w Polsce, bo po 2 minutach. Co jej powiedziałem? Myślałem, że to koniec. Pożegnałem się. Usłyszałem też kilka innych osób dzwoniących z komórek.Po chwili pojawili się ludzie, to byli hodowcy, potem przyjechała policja zaczęła na mnie świecić.- Piłki, piłki mi dajcie - krzyczałem do nich. Po 20 minutach mi ją przynieśli i wspólnie ze strażakiem przeciąłem tę rurę, podał mi rękę i wydostałem się na zewnątrz i wsadzili mnie do karetki. To było cudowne ocalenie

Opowiada pan Józef z Rybnika, jeden z ocalonych
Na targach miałem stoisko, na którym sprzedawałem pokarm dla ptaków. W hali było sporo osób, grała kapela. Nagle, w sekundę, wszystko runęło. Nawet nie było myśli, by uciekać, tak szybko się to stało. Dostałem czymś w głowę. Jak się ocknąłem, leżałem na lodzie. Zacząłem się czołgać w kierunku wyjścia. Udało mi się. Czekam teraz na wiadomość o moich dwóch zięciach, którzy byli ze mną w hali. Nie wiem co z nimi. Na szczęście moja córka Magda przeżyła.

Jarosław Wojtasik, rzecznik prasowy śląskich strażaków
Najgorsza jest niska temperatura. Strażacy, którzy byli w środku hali opowiadają o zwałach śniegu, więc to nieprawda, że śnieg z dachu był zrzucony. Hala wygląda jak krater. Ci, którzy tuż przed tragedią przebywali w jej środkowej części zostali wgnieceni w ziemię.Na początku akcji ratownicy kierowali się słuchem, bo w rumowisku dzwoniły telefony, które ofiary miały przy sobie. Potem zamilkły. Może z mrozu wyczerpały się baterie? O godz. 23.30 ratownicy słyszeli w rumowisku krzyki tylko jednego człowieka, poza tym nikt inny nie dawał znaku życia, ale poszkodowani mogą być nieprzytomni, albo w szoku.

Lekarz pogotowia ratunkowego
Na miejscu przyjechaliśmy przed godz. 18 i weszliśmy na rumowisko. Obraz jest surrealistyczny. Pełno padłych kaczek, gołębi, królików, a między tym ciała ludzi. Lód i pióra. Okropne! Hala była ogrzewana, ludzie zostawiali wierzchnie okrycia w szatni. Ci, którzy wyszli z rumowiska o własnych siłach mieli na sobie jedynie sweterki czy bluzy. Byli potwornie wyziębieni. Mróz poczynił ogromne spustoszenia. Tuż po godz. 19 wyciągnęliśmy chłopczyka ze zmiażdżonymi nogami. Był już bardzo wyziębiony. Wielu rannych, którzy czekają w hali na pomoc może tego mrozu nie wytrzymać.

Opowiada ks. Henryk Kuczob, kapelan strażaków
Jestem na miejscu niemal od początku, by służyć pomocą duchową. Niewyobrażalna tragedia. Pięciu osobom zdążyłem udzielić ostatniego namaszczenia, jedna z nich chwile potem zmarła. Naoglądałem się tutaj strasznych dramatów. Rozmawiałem z ojcem, który został przewieziony do szpitala. Pytał o swoją trzynastoletnią córkę. Nie wiedział, że zginęła, a ja nie miałem odwagi mu o tym powiedzieć.Rozmawiam też z młodymi strażakami, dla których to pierwsza taka akcja w życiu. Nie mogą sobie poradzić z tym nieszczęściem, którego dotknęli. Tłumaczę im, że to służba, którą wybrali na całe życie. Muszą się cieszyć z każdego uratowanego człowieka, a nie rozpamiętywać, że kogoś nie udało im się uratować. Jak trzeba będzie, zostanę tu przez całą noc.

Zdzisław Karoń (członka PZHGP):
To był moment. Wielki krach i krzyk ludzi - To był moment. Wielki krach i krzyk ludzi. Odwróciłem się i zobaczyłem, jak nagle w rogu zawala się sufit. Tam, gdzie było podwyższenie, dekoracje i miały miejsce występy. Kawałek po kawałku sufit leciał na ludzi. Załamywał się dosłownie niczym "meksykańska fala". Ludzie zaczęli uciekać, ale nie mieli najmniejszych szans.Gdy usłyszałem huk, byłem pośrodku sali. Nie wiem, czy przebiegłem dziesięć metrów, gdy potężny słup powalił mnie na ziemię. Czułem wielki ból w okolicach miednicy. Później już tylko czekałem jak wszyscy na pomoc - opowiada Zdzisław Krasoń, członek Polskiego Związku Hodowli Gołębi Pocztowych.- Szczęście w nieszczęściu, że to miało miejsce ok. 17.15. Gdyby tragedia nastąpiła w południe... - ucina rozmowę. - O 11 była koronacja zwycięzców, w której uczestniczyły wszystkie zagraniczne delegacje. Tam wtedy było 5 tys. ludzi. Godzinę później rozpoczęła się aukcja gołębi na cele charytatywne, a po niej zbieraliśmy pieniądze na szpik dla chorej córki jednego z naszych kolegów. Gdyby to wtedy nastąpiło, to jestem pewien, że nikt nie miałby żadnych szans na przeżycie. Pamiętam, że po godz. 18 wyciągnęli mnie ratownicy, a ok. 19 byłem w szpitalu. Stamtąd powiadomiłem żonę, że przeżyłem, ale jestem ranny. Mogę sobie tylko wyobrazić, co ona czuła przez te dwie godziny.

Cały ten ból jednak nijak ma się do tego, co każdy z nas przeżył i co czuł. Ja również bardzo mocno to wszystko przeżywam. Od rana mam ogromny dół psychiczny. Choć mam lewą nogę drętwą i nie mogę ruszać palcami oraz poobijany kręgosłup, to nie jestem połamany. Ale cały ten ból, który pozostał w psychice, jest dużo gorszy od reszty. Aż ciężko człowiekowi wycedzić kilka słów.



Poles call off search for survivors after roof collapse claims 66 lives


Luke Harding in Berlin and Roman Osica in Katowice

Guardian January 30, 2006

Rescuers yesterday abandoned hopes of finding any more survivors under the debris of an exhibition hall in Poland that collapsed on Saturday, killing at least 66 people. The rescue operation in the southern city of Katowice was called off yesterday afternoon, following a night in which temperatures plunged to -15C (5F). Heavy equipment was brought in to begin clearing away debris.
"The probability that there are still victims underneath is very, very low," fire chief Kazimierz Krzowski said.

The disaster happened at about 5.15pm on Saturday when the hall's giant roof collapsed on a gathering of pigeon enthusiasts from across Europe. Pictures taken minutes earlier show delegates sitting on packed trestle tables, drinking beer and munching sandwiches.
Witnesses described a "strange creaking noise". The metal roof then fell in, engulfing dozens of the delegates as they tried to flee.
"We heard something snap like a match breaking and people started to panic right away, realising what was happening," one survivor receiving hospital treatment told Polish television. "I started to run and something fell on me. Others trampled over me and I was able to crawl out on hands and knees."
"At first I thought a plane had fallen on the roof," another woman said. "The roof first collapsed in the middle. It then spread to all sides, like a game of dominoes."
Some of those trapped under the debris called for help on their mobile phones. One injured man was pinioned between metal sheets.
Rescuers blew warm air into the shattered building but the operation was hampered by bitter, freezing temperatures.
"The hall is full of ice. It's ice hell," a rescuer told the Guardian at the scene. "We cut holes in the roof using axes. We peered in. It was a horrible sight. Some statues for the winners were still on tables. There were lots of dead birds, and bird boxes."
Yesterday Poland's president, Lech Kaczynski, confirmed that 66 people had been killed, including two children and seven foreigners, from the Netherlands, Belgium, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany. Some 144 people needed hospital treatment, with 19 seriously injured, officials said. The death toll was not expected to rise, the president added, declaring a day of national mourning after what he said was "the greatest tragedy of the third Polish republic".
It was not immediately clear why the hall gave way. But the collapse came amid one of the coldest winters in eastern Europe in living memory, which has seen temperatures in Poland, Germany and Russia fall to below -30C. Some survivors blamed heavy snow piled on the roof. The building's management, however, insisted the snow had been regularly cleared.
Witnesses said two of the emergency exits appeared to be locked.
Franciszek Kowal said that he was inside the building when he saw the roof starting to buckle. He escaped to a terrace, and then jumped about four metres (13ft) to safety.
He said: "Luckily nothing happened to me, but I saw a macabre scene, as people tried to break windows in order to get out. People were hitting the panes with chairs, but the windows were unbreakable. One of the panes finally broke, and they started to get out by the window."

At least 66 die as roof collapses in Poland

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse

International Herald Tribune JANUARY 29, 2006

Katowice. Rescuers on Sunday abandoned their search for survivors after the snow-laden roof of an exhibition hall in southern Poland collapsed during a pigeon racing show, killing at least 66 people and injuring 141.

"The number of casualties cannot be considered final, and several victims still could be under the debris," the police commander, Marek Bienkowski, said at a news conference in Katowice, 300 kilometers, or 200 miles, south of Warsaw. "It's highly unlikely that anyone else has survived."

The roof collapsed Saturday afternoon when an estimated 500 people were in the hall for the "Pigeon 2006" exhibition, which opened Friday with more than 120 exhibitors, including groups from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine and Poland. The gathering was devoted to pigeon racing, a sport in which homing pigeons are released and race home using their sharp sense of direction.

Police officers said that the hall could hold 700 people but that the crowds had dwindled before the disaster struck.

"It all happened so fast, in three seconds," said a survivor, speaking by telephone from his hospital bed.

"If the roof had collapsed an hour earlier, there would have been a massacre," he said. "The exhibition hall was packed at the time. There were so many people you couldn't move."

Nearly 1,000 police officers, firefighters, soldiers and workers from local mines converged on the scene, deploying cutting equipment and thermal-imaging gear to search for survivors. Some trapped victims had called loved ones on their mobile phones from the ruins of the hall, describing the frozen corpses around them and the metal sheets that boxed them in during their last moments alive.

One victim, Tomek Michalski, called his mother late Saturday from within the rubble. "Both of his legs and his shoulder are blocked by metal bars," she said. "Next to him, a young woman is dead. He tried to save her life. She was a colleague. She had a 6-month-old boy."

Interminable hours went by without more news from her son. Then, late Saturday evening, about five hours after the disaster struck, she got another phone call from Michalski.

"He was trapped for five hours in the rubble of the exhibition hall. He called us again when he was in the ambulance, on his way to the hospital. He was among the last people to be rescued," she said. "He can't feel one of his legs, but we hope they will be able to save it."

The last survivor to be pulled from the wreckage was found at 10 on Saturday night, and medical experts helping with the rescue effort said it was unlikely anyone could have survived overnight in the debris because of bitterly cold temperatures.

By Sunday morning, after temperatures fell to minus 17 degrees Celsius (1 degree Farenheit) overnight, there were no more cries emerging from the twisted sheet-metal wreckage.

Marek Brodzki, a surgeon in charge of an 18-member medical team at the site, said the metal of the building's remains, covered in snow, had acted like a freezer.

"The rescuers are cutting into the sheet metal, boring holes into it. But inside it's even colder," he said. "Now I'm just identifying the bodies."

A police spokesman, Janusz Jonczyk, said 51 of the victims had been identified by Sunday afternoon, including 7 foreigners. Another police spokesman, Arkadiusz Szweda, said they included two Slovaks, two Czechs and one victim each from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. The bodies of the other victims still needed to be identified late Sunday.

President Lech Kaczynski declared three days of national mourning starting Sunday afternoon. President Jacques Chirac of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Vladimir Putin of Russia offered their condolences in separate statements Sunday.

Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz ordered an investigation amid suggestions that too much snow had been allowed to accumulate on the roof, which was erected five years ago.

The government also ordered the local authorities to clear snow from all buildings open to the public. It was the second time this winter in which heavy snow in Eastern and Central Europe has caused a building to cave in, with fatal consequences. On Jan. 2, the snow-covered roof of a skating rink collapsed in the German Alpine spa town of Bad Reichenhall, killing 15 people.

Jonczyk, the police spokesman, said heavy snow on the roof appeared to have caused the collapse. But a spokesman for the building's management company said snowfall was regularly removed. Interior Minister Jerzy Polaczek said the layer was half that thick at 50 centimeters, or 20 inches.

People who escaped said that two emergency exits were open but that other exits were locked, leaving others trapped. Grzegorz Slyszyk, an attorney who represents the company that owns the building, said that he had no information on the reports but that if exits were locked the reasons would be investigated.

66 Found Dead in Debris of Collapsed Roof in Poland

Richard Bernstein

New York Times
30 January 2006


KATOWICE, Jan. 29 — Rescue workers said Sunday that they had finished searching the wreckage of a football-field-size convention center in this city in southern Poland, finding the bodies of 66 people who died when a snow-laden roof collapsed late Saturday during the final hour of an international pigeon fanciers' fair.
Survivors described being trapped in a small crawl space between the collapsed roof and the floor until rescuers reached them. About 150 people were injured, the authorities said.
"It is possible that more bodies may be found," said Aleksander Kotulecki, an official of the Katowice Crisis Management Department, which is supervising the rescue work. But Mr. Kotulecki said in an interview in the Katowice City Hall that rescue workers had carefully combed through the debris on Saturday night and had probably found everybody there, whether dead or alive.
"It was minus 17 degrees Celsius," Mr. Kotulecki said, about minus 1 Fahrenheit, "so it was very hard, and the human body can be frozen, especially if it's trapped under the ruins."
Polish television said that dogs normally used to find people trapped in rubble were ineffective because of the cold, so rescue workers relied on thermal imaging gear instead to find victims hidden under shards of concrete, often using cutting equipment to get them out.
The accident occurred late in the afternoon at the International Katowice Fair, in the Chorzow neighborhood of this industrial city of around 360,000 about 175 miles southwest of Warsaw, after nearly two feet of snow had accumulated on the structure's flat roof. Polish news reports said the interior warmth of the building began to melt the snow and that made the wooden and concrete roof shift, causing it to fall in on itself.
President Lech Kaczynski, who paid a quick visit to the site on Saturday, said that he would personally lead the investigation into the causes of the collapse.
By Sunday evening, only a few of the 1,300 firefighters, police officers and soldiers who had searched the building overnight Saturday remained on the site; a group of them huddled around an outdoor fire. Television floodlights illuminated the blue-and-white sides of the building, which, with the roof gone, seemed to lean inward and seemed in danger of toppling.
Witnesses of the cave-in said the roof came down without warning. In just a few seconds, the huge convention center holding an estimated 500 visitors and exhibitors turned into a nightmarish scene as wooden beams and slabs of concrete fell and the injured cried out for help.
"It was very fast, just five seconds and everything started to move and the roof just fell in," said Marek Wosiek, a veterinarian from the Polish town of Krotoszyn, between Poznan and Warsaw, who had been inside. "I found myself lying on the floor, and the roof was just above my head.
Mr. Wosiek, who said he was attending the fair to sell medicine to pigeon breeders, said he lay there for about three hours, using a small flashlight on his cellular phone to signal rescue workers. He was interviewed at bedside in the Miejski Hospital in Katowice, where he was being treated for four fractured vertebrae. A doctor said he would probably recover fully.
Grzegorz Jablonski, of Olsztyn in northern Poland, said one of his fingers had to be amputated after he was rescued. But he said his life was saved by the fact that he was sitting on a cardboard box in the middle of the convention center when the roof came crashing down.
"If I had been standing up, the roof would have sliced off my head," he said. As it was, he said, he was hit by two large pieces of wood and knocked to the ground where, like Mr. Wosiek, he found himself in a kind of crawl space between the floor and a piece of collapsed roof.
"A colleague of mine had left the hall just before so he knew where I was," Mr. Jablonski said. "He brought some firemen to the place, and they lifted up the roof so they could get me out."
"There was a horrible noise," Mr. Jablonski said of the moment when the roof collapsed, and "people crying in pain and yelling for help."
Polish government prosecutors were reported to be inspecting the wreckage of the building on Sunday in an attempt to collect evidence of possible negligence. The convention center building, in an area of corporate offices and the Katowice television station, was constructed only eight years ago in a part of Poland where heavy winter snowfalls are common.
"Probably there was some flaw in the construction for the whole building to have collapsed," said Mr. Kotulecki, the local crisis management official.
Katowice is a former coal mining district where pigeon breeding and racing of carrier pigeons have long been popular pastimes.
Witnesses said that earlier in the day on Saturday, a far larger number of people had been at the fair. There had been perhaps as many as 10,000, said one pigeon breeder, Jan Grondziel, from the town of Plock, who said he left just a few minutes before the roof collapsed.
"It sounded like fireworks," he said, standing on Sunday night outside the ruined convention center next to two empty wooden carrying cases for pigeons. "I thought maybe a truck with fireworks had exploded, or that maybe they were setting off fireworks at the end of the fair."
Among the dead were one German, a Belgian, two Czechs, and a Slovak, the Polish press reported; the event drew visitors from most European countries and as far away as the United States.
It was unclear why so high a percentage of the victims of the collapse were Poles, but one likely explanation is that the fair was to close at 6 p.m., less than an hour before the roof collapsed, and most foreign visitors had already left for their hotels or for home.



Help was almost with them, but one by one they died in the cold

By Roger Boyes and Marcin Pietraszewski, in Katowice

Times 30 January 2006

AT FIRST survivors trapped beneath the twisted wreckage of the Katowice exhibition hall called relatives on their mobile telephones.
“He’s alive,” one frantic mother said after receiving a call from her son. “His legs and a shoulder are blocked by metal beams. Next to him a young woman is dead.”

For hours rescue workers pumped warm air into the rubble in a desperate attempt to keep alive survivors pinioned by girders and frozen to the metal debris. A few managed to guide the rescuers to where they were. But, one by one, the rest perished as temperatures plummeted to minus 15C (5F) and the pavilion walls acted like a freezer.
Rescue efforts continued yesterday, but hope gradually vanished. At least 66 people were dead and 160 injured. The collapse of the roof of Pavilion 1 on a racing pigeon show attended by 500 enthusiasts was pronounced the worst disaster of Poland’s post-communist era. President Kaczynski ordered a day of mourning and promised to oversee an investigation personally.
“We must take steps to ensure that such accidents are avoided in future,” he said.
Last night the rescue teams brought in a heavy crane to hoist the fallen girders. They had used only hand tools until then, fearing that moving the rubble could kill, rather than save, survivors. But the tracker dog teams exploring the caverns of the ruined hall had been scenting corpses, not the living, for most of the day. Police and fire officals blamed the weight of snow for the roof’s collapse, although the managers said that it had been regularly cleared. Even before Saturday’s tragedy nearly 200 people had died in Poland’s coldest winter in decades.
Katowice is at the heart of Poland’s coal-mining region. Like miners across the world, they love to race pigeons and keep dovecotes in their narrow gardens. Pigeon 2006 was one of the main international events for racers, and was attended by exhibitors from across Europe. As many as seven foreigners were believed to be among the dead, none of them British. Yesterday, bewildered birds perched on the twisted rafters as bodies were pulled from the wreckage.
Survivors talked of hearing a thunderous crack, as if an aircraft had smacked on to the roof. There was a rush of cold air, a moment of silence and then howling and whimpering.
Krystyna Winiarska, an exhibitor from Wroclaw who suffered a broken wrist and shoulder, remembers only the noise. “Then I was lying among the snow and the steel fragments, next to me, my sister, my brother-in-law and their son. They couldn’t move, they were pinned down by a pillar.”
She tried unsuccessfully to move the beam. The first rescue workers came quickly. “But they didn’t know who to help first. I tried to ring my sister again and again. But there was no answer.”
Most of those treated in hospital were only lightly injured. “We’re the lucky ones,” said Francis Nolmans, a Belgian exhibitor who was injured in the eye. “Those who got out are mostly in reasonable condition,” a surgeon said. “It’s those who didn’t who escape immediately who are in trouble.”
Tadeusz Dlugosz escaped to find that his 26-year-old son had been killed. “It was his idea to come to the fair. He found his grave there.”
Escaping from the building was also dangerous, with dangling cables threatening survivors with electrocution. Some exhibitors said that at least two emergency exits were blocked. “I saw people desperately trying to break windows with chairs,” Franciszek Kowal said.
The inquiry will have to establish whether the roof collapsed because of the heavy snow, or because many months of packed ice weakened the structure of the hall. Temperatures in Upper Silesia have sometimes dropped to minus 30C (-22F).
Edmund Koloska, 62, who had gone to the exhibition to buy pigeons for the spring racing season, recalled: “The atmosphere was great, the music was a bit loud, but the birds were beautiful. Then came that crashing noise.” He cannot remember what happened next, finding himself in hospital with minor injuries. “I don’t know to whom I should say thank you.”

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