It was Poland’s worst building disaster of recent times. On January 28 2006 at 17.15 the huge, flat roof of the Katowice International Fair (MTK) building crumpled like aluminum foil, and collapsed onto more than 700 exhibitors, delegates, visitors and children. The avalanche of snow concealed glass shards and spears of jagged steel that crashed down. Despite regular sweeping, it seemed that heavy snowfall had pushed the MTK roof structure beyond its limits.
Katowice, in southwestern Poland, was justifiably proud of the MTK, built in the late 1990s with every facility to host events – such as Pigeon 2006, the 56th National Exhibition of Carrier Pigeons. Pigeon-fancying may be a minority sport, but breeders and exhibitors are consumed by a passion for their hobby and the fair had attracted an international crowd with more than 1,000 birds on display. Many survived, protected by their cages. Humans weren’t so lucky. The collapse plunged everyone into sub-zero temperatures, if threatening death by exposure as much as from injury. Around 1,000 firefighters, 230 police with sniffer rescue dogs and several army units battled temperatures as low as -15°C with hot-air jets, until melting snow caused the wreckage to settle, crushing trapped victims. For 24 hours rescuers tore at the rubble with bare hands. After that they used heavy lifting equipment – because they knew no one could have survived the cold any longer.
It was a total calamity; the nation had been proudly investing in ’modernity’ so, when MTK’s steel frame buckled, the Polish people felt it as a direct blow to their new-found self-esteem. But first the victims had to be remembered; the president of Poland declared three days of national mourning. Then Poland had to make sure it could never happen again.
When: January 28 2006
Where: Katowice, Poland
Death toll: 65 dead and 170 seriously injured.
You should know: It took workers 22 days to reach the last major pile of collapsed rubble. They found two carrier pigeons, still alive.