Bublan orders firemen to check hypermarket roofs in wake of Katowice disaster

Katowice, photo: CTK

The shockwaves from the Katowice trade fair disaster are being felt across Europe. There's still some dispute over whether snow was a major factor in the collapse of the trade fair roof, which killed more than 60 people. But on Monday the Czech Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan ordered fire services across the country to carry out checks on all large buildings and shopping centres.

Katowice,  photo: CTK
Police and construction experts in Poland are still examining the wreckage of the collapsed trade hall in Katowice for clues to the disaster, amid conflicting reports over the amount of snow on the roof. But across the border in the Czech Republic, Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan is wasting no time. On Monday he ordered fire services to begin checking roofs of the hundreds of hypermarkets and superstores that have mushroomed across the country in the last decade.

Many people are asking how architects could overlook something as obvious as the weight of snow when designing their buildings, especially here in the heart of frosty Central Europe. That's a question I put earlier to architect Zdenek Lukes.

Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan,  photo: CTK
"Of course they have to take it into account; there are very strict regulations and norms. With flat roofs in particular, the weight of snow has to be considered. There are various safety factors which take into account changing situations. So for example there might be a lot of snow on the roof and then the weather might change and it might start raining. The snow begins to absorb water and becomes heavier, and the pressure on the roof is enormous. But even an extreme situation like that has to be taken into account by every architect with every building he designs."

Minister Bublan told reporters the Czech authorities had to learn lessons from the Katowice disaster. But with hundreds of such buildings across the country, and heavy snow falling each year, will sending out the fire brigade serve any purpose? Zdenek Lukes once again.

The cleaning of the roof of the swimming pool in Havlickuv Brod,  photo: CTK
"I don't think it's a waste of time, no. A huge number of new shopping centres have been built in the last five to ten years, and these are buildings which are designed for one purpose and will function for a relatively short period of time. And there is a very real threat that in some cases the construction calculations haven't been done as perfectly as the regulations demand. So some form of prevention is essential, and in my opinion it shouldn't be a problem for firemen at a local level to check all roofs which could be a potential safety risk. That's definitely better than waiting for the next accident to happen."

Fire services will begin checking buildings immediately. However they won't have the authority to close buildings with potentially risky roofs - all they can do is inform the local authorities.