BAD REICHENHALL, Germany – Concerned after heavy snowfall, officials in this small Bavarian town tested the weight of snow on the roof of their local skating rink and pronounced the structure safe.
Hours later, the roof collapsed onto dozens of people enjoying a school vacation afternoon. At least 10 of those inside were believed dead — including four children — and others trapped between piles of debris and the frozen surface of the rink.
In the hours after the collapse, parents called out their children's names, and rescue workers — some arriving from neighboring Austria — swarmed around the building in the town of Bad Reichenhall. Doctors set up a makeshift infirmary at a sports hall next door, where injured people lay with intravenous hookups, and fire crews worked to shovel away debris.
A helicopter kept a floodlight on the scene as rescue workers scrambled into the early hours Tuesday to find victims and prop up what remained of the roof. With the structure stabilized, rescuers with dogs went into the building a little before midnight.
Six victims were recovered from the building, and another four had been located inside and were believed dead, said Christoph Abriss, a spokesman for the local council. He added that "there are still people missing," but it was unclear how many.
At least four children were among the victims of the collapse, which occurred at 4 p.m. on a school holiday Monday with about 50 people inside.
Police said 18 people were hurt and 16 people escaped without injury. Some 360 rescue workers were at the scene.
Early Tuesday, police spokesman Franz Sommerauer said rescue crews had gained access to around half the hall, but still had not reached the people trapped. They were trying to remove the largest chunks of debris with the help of six cranes.
Officials clung to hope that more survivors would be found after a 6-year-old girl was rescued late Monday with no major injuries more than five hours after the collapse.
"There is still a chance that we can rescue living people from the rubble," Rudi Zeis, a local fire chief, said late Monday.
Among the confirmed deaths were two boys ages 12 and 13, and two girls ages 7 and 8, one of whom was killed along with her mother.
Peter Volk, a spokesman for the Malteser relief group, said rescuers feared those buried under the debris would have been pressed against the cold surface of the rink in freezing weather, he said.
"Our rescue workers are expecting not just seriously injured people, but also people suffering from hypothermia," Volk said.
Snow choked local streets and area roads, snarling traffic and delaying badly needed equipment.
Fire service officials said the flat roof appeared to have collapsed under the weight of snow. Local officials said there was a roughly 8-inch layer of snow on the roof of the building.
The structure, built in the 1970s with a tall, airy design, had large glass windows around its sides and a concrete roof. It was attached to a municipal swimming pool, a tennis court and a restaurant. The rink measured 200 by 100 feet.
An official with a local ice hockey club said town authorities told him a half hour before the accident that a practice session for youth players was canceled because the rink was at risk of collapsing.
However, "apparently the public skating was still continuing," Thomas Rumpeltes told The Associated Press.
Mayor Wolfgang Heitmeier said the weight of the snow had been measured at midday and that it was well below the point at which the hall would have to be closed.
Heitmeier told reporters that, following strong snowfall in the afternoon, there had been concerns that critical levels could be reached Tuesday, and evening training was canceled as a precaution. The snow was to have been shoveled off Tuesday morning.
However, he said officials did not see any danger on Monday "because the levels were significantly below the limit."
Bayerische Rundfunk radio reported that a supervisor had ordered the last skaters off the ice seconds before the collapse. It also said loud creaking was heard just before the accident.
Bad Reichenhall, which has about 15,000 inhabitants, is in the southeastern corner of Germany, on the Austrian border about six miles from Salzburg.
Bavarian Red Cross spokeswoman Hanna Hutschenreiter said rescue services had been called in from a wide area around the town, including Salzburg.
Bavarian Governor Edmund Stoiber said he was "deeply shaken" by news of the accident.
"Our hopes now rest with the rescue forces at the scene, who are doing everything they can," he said.