No jokes. No sarcasm. No pictures. Today is a truly sad day for Latvia.
Yesterday evening, the roof of a supermarket in the outskirts of Riga collapsed. As is the way with these things, it happened at around 6pm, just as people like you and I were popping in for a few bits and pieces on the way home from work.
When it first hit BBC News at around 11pm, it was reported that 2 people had died and dozens more had been injured. This morning, every time I walked past the TV, the death toll had risen. It currently stands at 48, but they still don’t know how many people are trapped inside. The media are asking friends and relatives to call people so they can locate them by the ringing of their mobile phones.
Among the dead are three emergency workers who were trying to help the shoppers trapped inside. These brave people were probably on less money than most Westerners would get out of bed for.
In a small country like Latvia, with an already dwindling population of less than 2 million, a senseless loss of life like this hits especially hard. People need a reason, someone to blame. Theories are flying around. Was the construction company shoddy? Was a sub-par building approved due to a few brown envelopes changing hands? In Latvia, both are possible, if not probable. A criminal investigation has been launched.
In a country that’s more than 50% forest, believe it or not, they were in the process of building a roof garden on top of this shopping centre. Could the roof just not take the extra weight? Were all of the building materials carelessly stored on one part of the roof? Three days of heavy rain probably didn’t help. Whatever the reasons, 500 sq. metres of roof collapsed. The electronic doors automatically shut trapping a lot of people, who might have had a chance of getting out, inside.
As for me, I was nowhere near the supermarket. None of my friends live anywhere near that district either. But my students, colleagues, and the acquaintances I’ve made in three years of living here? Like many others, I just don’t know.
I guess all we can hope for now is that the death toll doesn’t continue to rise. And that the families and friends of the victims, and the people of Latvia in general, demand and receive answers – and justice – for this completely avoidable tragedy.