Poland comes to terms with Katowice tragedy

Photo: CTK

This past week Poland has been in mourning, remembering the victims of the country's worst tragedy in twenty years: the collapse of a trade fair centre in the southern city of Katowice. The roof of the packed building where a trade show was underway caved in, apparently under the weight of uncleared snow. 64 people were killed including eight foreigners. Czechs and Slovaks were among them.

Photo: CTK
Three days of national mourning were observed to honour the victims of the disaster. Most of theatre performances, film shows and entertainment events were cancelled. A week after Poles take in the extent of the disaster that killed over sixty people and left one hundred and fifty with injuries. They all attended a carrier pigeon exhibition in Katowice when the disaster struck. Religious services in memory of the victims have been held in churches across Poland. For ordinary Polish citizens the period of mourning declared by the authorities was a time for contemplation.

'I was terrified because it was a huge tragedy.'

'It was a big tragedy for me, and I think, for all the people in Poland. I was really shocked.'

'I felt very terrible when I heard about this tragedy. I don't know, maybe we will think more about our safety in Poland - like in these days that so much snow has fallen in Poland. I think it's good that Poles can feel together and try to think about the tragedy of those people who lost their friends or families. And I think it's a good time to think about it.'

Rescue workers described scenes of horror when they had to brave not just freezing temperatures, but also live wires exposed when the building collapsed. Some of those who suffered minor injuries risked their lives to help others.

'I was there inside the exhibition centre when the roof collapsed.. My leg was bleeding, but I didn't feel any pain at the time. I dragged a child from under the fallen roof. I don't know if she survived but I do hope she did.'

A team of psychologists has been working round-the-clock with the families of the victims, the people in hospital and the rescuers who had to pull out dismembered bodies, smashed by falling metal bars, from under the rubble. Polish authorities moved swiftly to offer help to those who needed it.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski said he was united in mourning with those who suffered personal loss. He said the state will do its best to provide assistance to all those who had lost their family members. The children of the victims are to receive lifelong pensions.

Now that the initial shock is over, questions are being asked about the causes of the disaster. Poles hope the authorities will draw the necessary lesson.

Photo: CTK
It is too early to determine what caused the roof to collapse but the owners of the hall have already been accused of 'serious negligence' and 'flouting safety regulations'. According to Professor Marian Gizejowski of Warsaw's University of Technology, the weight of snow was most probably not the sole cause of the tragedy.

'It is very difficult at this stage to talk about the definite reasons for the collapse. I do not neglect the reason resulting from design and execution errors. As far as I know this might not be the only factor contributing to this disaster.'

It could take weeks to dismantle the hall and piece together evidence. The Interior Minister ordered mandatory inspection and clearing of all large-surface flat roofs on supermarkets, shopping centers and sports facilities in Poland.