KATOWICE, Poland – The snow-covered roof of a convention hall in southern Poland collapsed Saturday with as many as 500 people inside for a racing pigeon exhibition, killing at least 60 people and injuring at least 141.
The death toll rose through the early hours of Sunday as rescue teams and dogs searched through the twisted ruin of metal in subfreezing temperatures. No survivors had been found for more than eight hours.
"Unfortunately we have more tragic information: 60 people have died," Andrzej Fiema, an official at the crisis management center organizing rescue, said on TVN24 television. "This is information from all rescue services, so, fire, police and medical services."
Katowice fire chief Kazimierz Krzowski said rescue efforts "in a way have come to an end, and we are bringing out corpses."
A priest outside the building's entrance prayed over the bodies of an adult and a child covered by a blanket and a tarp. In the hours following the collapse, witnesses said people beneath the wreckage were calling family or emergency services on their cell phones for help.
Franciszek Kowal escaped onto a terrace when he saw the roof starting to fall, then jumped about 15 feet to safety.
"People tried to break windows in order to get out," Kowal told The Associated Press. "People were hitting the panes with chairs, but the windows were unbreakable. One of the panes finally broke, and they started to get out by the window."
Krzysztof Mejer, a spokesman for the government of the Silesia region, said at least 33 people had died and 141 were injured.
Fire brigade chaplain Capt. Henryk Kuczob, a Roman Catholic priest, said he gave last rites to one of the injured, a 50-year-old man who later died.
"A second man was taken to the hospital," Kuczob said. "His 13-year-old daughter is dead, but he doesn't know that yet. He's in shock."
Crumpled birdcages were scattered inside the building near the entrance, and dozens of white and brown pigeons perched on the twisted rafters, their feathers fluffed against the cold.
The weight of snow likely caused the roof to cave in at about 5:30 p.m., less than two hours before the event was scheduled to close for the evening, Katowice fire brigade spokesman Jaroslaw Wojtasik said.
Hundreds of firefighters responded along with search-and-rescue teams with dogs and local miner rescue teams, Wojtasik said. Some 30 people gathered in a building next to the site awaiting news of their loved ones.
Even passers-by pitched in.
Zbigniew Chmurzynski said he was on his way back from the movies with his wife when they came upon the collapse. He said he raced home for his Labrador retriever, then headed back to the site.
"My dog found two unconscious people," he said. "I just hope they'll survive."
Temperatures dropped to 1 degree overnight.
Rescue workers pumped warm air into the ruin for those feared trapped inside, as crews dug into the wreckage with saws and other equipment, using flashlights and floodlights. The firefighters also used jacks to stabilize some of the building's beams as they attempted to get to those trapped.
Wojtasik estimated the effort could take another 40 hours.
An unidentified woman with bandages around her head, a bloodied chin and scrapes on her face told TVN24 from her hospital bed that she feared one of her friends was dead.
"I heard a snap like breaking matches as the roof fell on everybody. Then I heard an unbelievable scream, and then I tried to escape like everybody else," she said. "Something fell on me, I turned around, somebody stepped on me, but on my knees I was able to get out. I still don't know where some of my friends are and I haven't had any contact with them — most likely one of them is dead."
The "Pigeon 2006" fair was made up of more than 120 exhibitors, including groups from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine and Poland, according to the fair's Web site. Mejer said foreigners were among the injured, including a German, a Belgian and a Czech citizen.
The Jan. 27-29 fair was expecting a total of some 55,000 guests, customers and visitors. A spokeswoman for the fair did not answer her phone.
Grzegorz Slyszyk, who said he was an attorney for building management, said the structure, built in 2000, could not have collapsed from the snow because excess snow was regularly cleared from the roof.
"The snow was last removed two weeks ago, and since then there hasn't been much snow," he said. "Definitely, it's too early to speculate on a cause."
Katowice, some 200 miles south of Warsaw in a mining region, has been hit with the same heavy snow this winter that has been plaguing much of eastern and central Europe.
On Friday, snow caused a town hall's roof to collapse in the southern Austrian town of Mariazell, though no injuries were reported.
On Jan. 2, the snow-covered roof of a skating rink collapsed, killing 15 people, including 12 children in the German Alpine spa town of Bad Reichenhall.