Czechs among victims of collapsed exhibition-hall in Poland

Photo: CTK

Poland has begun three days of mourning after a collapsed roof of an exhibition hall in Katowice in the south of the country killed almost 70 people on Saturday. Among the dead are at least eight foreigners, including two Czechs, and one Czech man is still unaccounted for. The Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who was meant to travel to Prague on Monday, has called off his scheduled visit.

Lech Kaczynski,  photo: CTK
The tragedy occurred when the roof of the exhibition hall caved in on Saturday as it was packed with visitors to a homing pigeon show. Among the visitors were also members of the Czech Union of Carrier Pigeon Breeders from the city of Brno. Most of them had left the exhibition hall shortly before the accident happened. But back in their coach, they found out that three of their colleagues were missing. Four other Czechs were injured in the accident, among them Lubomir Hapl from North Moravia, who spoke to Czech TV on Sunday.

"I ran towards the exit. The roof still looked fine above me. So ran a few metres and then the roof collapsed on me anyway."

With a bad cut on his head, Mr Hapl is in a stable condition and has been transported to a Czech hospital.

A team of Czech doctors joined the rescue teams on Saturday night, among them Dr Ilja Chocholous from Prague:

"We have seen mass destruction. Technically, it is a very difficult situation. Nothing could be done without heavy machinery. If there is somebody under the rubble, it's not in human power to save them."

Photo: CTK
Radio Prague's Rob Cameron is now in Katowice. He arrived at the site on Sunday.

"Well, it was quite eerie when I arrived - because the rescue workers had lit up the entire site with very powerful arc lights - to see these arc lights lighting up trees which had been dusted with snow and then the hall itself - the whole roof of the hall had collapsed in on itself. There were still piles of twisted metal from the building which had collapsed on the people inside. So it was a very, very eerie sight. The eeriest, or the spookiest, thing was that outside the site in the glare of these spotlights there were three cars that had been left by people who had attended this trade fair and so far had not claimed them. And it is presumed that the owners of those are either lying dead in morgues or lying indeed in the wreckage of the trade hall."

Do you know how many Czechs were attending the exhibition?

Photo: CTK
"Well, there are no firm figures yet for the number of people inside the hall when the accident happened or indeed for the number of people who could still be inside. We don't know how many people there were inside and we don't know how many Czechs there were. All we do know is that there have been two confirmed Czech deaths and several Slovak deaths among the many dozens of mainly Polish people who died."

Poland had declared three days of mourning - what is the atmosphere now in the country?

"I think this town, Katowice, is a town in a state of shock. Flags are flying at half-mast. People are queuing up in local hospitals to donate blood. People are really very, very shocked here. And I think, especially so, because this building was very new. It was six or seven years old. And if you drive around Katowice, which is an industrial place, there are lots of similar buildings all around, steel and glass constructions, and I think people are really wondering, if this accident happened to this building which was, as I say, less than a decade old, then it really could happen anywhere else. And I think that has raised a lot of questions here in Katowice."