BAD REICHENHALL, Germany – Rescuers halted their search Tuesday for survivors feared trapped for nearly a full day under the wreckage of a fallen ice rink roof that killed 11 people, including six children, fearing the ruins could collapse further.
An expert survey showed "that it would be irresponsible for more rescue workers to go in," said George Grabner, a local councilor for the region that includes the Alpine town of Bad Reichenhall.
Four people were still missing following Monday's roof collapse — a woman and three children between the ages of 12 and 16, officials said.
Officials were awaiting the arrival of more heavy equipment later Tuesday evening and they hoped the rescue operation would resume by dawn Wednesday.
"As soon as it is possible, we will continue to work with dogs and helpers into the area to find the people who are still in the wreckage," said Rudi Zeif, a local fire official. He said operations would continue "until we have rescued or recovered all the missing."
Rescuers used trained dogs to try to find people, but hopes were dimming for finding survivors 24 hours after the accident. Two bodies were carried from the wreckage just past noon Tuesday.
Officials said another 18 people were seriously injured in the collapse of the snow-laden roof, which occurred Monday at 4 p.m., just as the rink was about to close for the day. Schools were still on Christmas break and about 50 people were in the building at the time.
Rescue workers recovered two bodies just after midday Tuesday, slowly carrying a stretcher covered with a white cloth out of the tilting wreckage of the 1970s-era recreational center in southeastern Germany. Officials said 18 people were injured and several more remained missing.
Heavy equipment was used in the search, which included about 500 firefighters, police and rescue personnel from Germany and neighboring Austria, as well as dogs trained to find earthquake victims.
Heavy snow hampered the rescue efforts. Cranes dangled firefighters onto the collapsed roof with long chains to guard against a sudden shift so they could shovel away new snow.
Officials vowed to keep digging but the mood grew more somber as hours passed. A 6-year-old girl was rescued with no major injuries Monday more than five hours after the collapse. Rescue officials, however, expressed concern that anyone still trapped would suffer from hypothermia.
Among the confirmed deaths were a 13-year-old boy, and two girls ages 7 and 8, one of whom was killed along with her mother. A 12-year-old boy who was rescued at the scene died later in the hospital.
In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her "deep sympathy" for the victims and praised the work of rescuers who were in "a race against time" to find survivors.
Bavarian Gov. Edmund Stoiber toured the rescue site and expressed his sympathy as well, describing the scene as "shocking, I've got no words for it." A memorial service was planned for next week.
Police and prosecutors said they would investigate the cause of accident amid angry suspicions from some town residents, who said the building had been due for renovation.
"There's something rotten about this. We've had a lot more snow than this before," said retiree Erna Schweiger-Nolte as she stood outside the police cordon.
She said it was "well known" that the building was in poor shape and leaking.
Suspicions were fueled by news that an official with the town's ice hockey club said he had been told by town authorities 30 minutes before the accident that a regular practice session for youth players later in the day was canceled because there was a risk of the facility collapsing.
Officials said there had been a roughly 8-inch layer of snow on the roof. Mayor Wolfgang Heitmeier said the weight of the snow had been measured at midday Monday and that it was well below the point at which the rink would have had to be closed.
Heitmeier told reporters that, following heavy snowfall in the afternoon, there had been some concern that those levels could be reached the next day, and the planned Monday evening practice was canceled as a precaution. The snow was to have been shoveled off Tuesday morning.
However, he said officials did not see any danger "because the levels were significantly below the limit."
Meteorologists measured nearly 1 1/2 feet of fresh, wet snowfall on Monday in the Bavarian Alps, where Bad Reichenhall is located. Heavy snowfall warnings were also issued for Tuesday, as the snow continued to come down. Two people were killed in an avalanche in the area Monday, and police cleared the train station Tuesday in nearby Traunstein, the hometown of Pope Benedict XVI, after rail personnel expressed worry about the heavy snow on the roof there.
Bad Reichenhall, a town of some 15,000 people, is on the border with Austria and about six miles from the city of Salzburg.