Director of Collapsed Moscow Market Arrested

The director of a Moscow market where the roof collapsed, killing at least 58 people, has been detained, the city prosecutor's office said Friday.

Sergei Marchenko, a spokesman for the office, said he could give no information on what crime the director was accused of committing. But the ITAR-Tass and Interfax news agencies, who identified the director as Mark Meshiyev, cited chief city prosecutor Anatoly Zuyev as saying the suspect had been charged with negligence leading to deaths.

Zuyev said that prosecutors had ordered an analysis by explosives experts, and that a comprehensive construction analysis would follow, Interfax reported. Officials earlier had said there was next to no chance that terrorism was involved in the roof collapse early Thursday.

Doctors fought to save the lives of more than a dozen seriously injured victims of the collapse, and officials said there was virtually no hope of finding any more live people in the wreckage.

"Maybe there is some kind of zone where there may be people, but the probability of this is very small," Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said outside the crumpled Basmanny market, the scene of the tragedy, where power shovels scooped up tons of rubble and distraught people sought news of their missing relatives.

The bodies of 57 people have been recovered from the wreckage and one man died of his injuries on Friday, Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova said. At least 31 other people were injured when the roof fell in before dawn Thursday, emergency officials said.

Twenty-one of the injured remained in hospitals on Friday. Three were gravely injured and 10 were in serious condition, said Yevgeny Yevdokin, the city's chief anesthesiologist.

"All the patients are in critical condition ... in intensive care," he said. "They are on artificial respiration, in medically induced comas and on controlled pain killers."

He described traumas ranging from head, chest and stomach injuries to broken limbs.

Virtually all the victims were workers from the former Soviet republics, among the thousands who have poured into the Russian capital to fill low-paying jobs such as those at the city's produce and housewares markets.

At least 22 of the victims were from Azerbaijan, NTV television reported; the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted an unnamed leader of the Azerbaijani Diaspora in Moscow as saying that the number was closer to 40.

An Azerbaijani Embassy official at the makeshift morgue next to the market, Shamil Kasayev, said the government would cover all the costs of transporting the bodies — an expense few migrant families could afford, even with the $3,500 one-time payment the Moscow city government has pledged to provide the family of each victim.

In the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, President Ilham Aliev ordered his government to "thoroughly deal with the problems of delivering (victims') bodies to Azerbaijan," said First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov.

Azerbaijan's state airlines AZAL will organize a special flight home for the bodies once all are identified, first deputy general director Sabir Ilyasov told The Associated Press.

Emergency officials said it was impossible to say how many people had been in the Basmanny market in east-central Moscow when it collapsed, but survivors and witnesses said there could have been up to 100 people conducting wholesale business or simply sleeping in the building. Market traders described a cavernous building where the basement had been transformed into a huge warehouse for fruits and vegetables that vendors from other markets trolled nightly for produce they could sell in turn.

Two to three inches of wet snow had fallen before the collapse, on top of 18.5 inches that had fallen since the start of winter, the Russian Weather Service said.

The market was designed by Nodar Kancheli, the same architect who drafted the plans for Moscow's Transvaal water park, where the roof collapsed in February 2004, killing 28 people. Prosecutors have blamed that collapse on design flaws.

The probable cause of the collapse was either the buildup of heavy snow, design flaws or maintenance errors, Moscow Prosecutor Anatoly Zuyev said. Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation on charges of negligence leading to deaths, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

The news agency also quoted Zuyev as saying that prosecutors had written the market director in December about maintenance violations, but he did not specify what they were.

Luzhkov said the city had already been planning to tear down the market and build a new, modern shopping mall in its place.