Before the collapse
November 21, 2013, eight in the morning. Supermarket Maxima on Priedaines Street 20, built only a year prior, opens its doors. Construction is ongoing atop the roof of the shop to create a rooftop garden and walking plot for residents of the house attached to the shop. The construction work is carried out by Re&Re. At four in the afternoon, the builders leave.
At 16:21, the fire alarm goes off and evacuation announcements are played. Some shoppers do not follow. Shortly after five, the announcements are switched off by security but the alarm keeps ringing. Security firm Viessmann employee arrives and determines that the alarm is coming from the pump station in the basement. A technician continues examination.
At 17:44, signals "Alarm" and "Extensive damage" are sent to the security firm.
At 17:44:21 the roof of the Maxima collapses, with shoppers and staff inside.
First rescue attempts
The Fire and Rescue Service gets a call at 17:46 and arrives 14 minutes later. Rescuers identify a collapse at 500 square-meter area and receive information that 30 to 50 people are under the ruins. Rescue work begins. At 18:08, first survivors are saved. At 18:18, the first casualty is brought outside.
Latvian Radio's Māra Rozenberga is among the first reporters at the scene.
"I have managed to talk to eyewitnesses; some of them had been inside the store. The view is horrible, [..] only the main structures and the sign is left. The whole roof has collapsed in the middle, there are masses of debris, many ambulances, police cars, firetrucks. [..]"
People who had been inside at the time described the experience:
"I was there shortly after five, but I exited immediately. I approached a shop assistant and asked why the alarm but they said that it just wasn't switching off and nothing's wrong."
"My friend came outside and said that the entrance had been blocked, he smashed the glass, people were running to get out because the door couldn't be opened. He tried to get his wife out of the crowd. She has a broken leg, was taken away by ambulance."
"My mother is inside, I called but she isn't picking up. My younger sister was saved, she called and told me. They had stood by the ice cream aisle and my sister was walking toward the other end of the store, turned toward mom and saw a huge piece of concrete fall in front of her. She screamed and another block of concrete fell on the other side, she was buried in debris. My sister passed out, then came to, screamed, and was saved. She pointed toward mom but there was too much concrete, she couldn't be found."
At 19:04, the roof caves in for the second time. Rescuers are inside.
The second collapse is at an area of 900 square meters. 12 rescuers are injured, and three – Sergejs Ižiks, Vilnis Šteinītis, and Edgars Reinfelds – lose their lives.
Traffic is restricted in the Zolitūde district. Rescuers, medics, and K9 units continue work. Hospitals receive information about the provisional number of victims and prepare operation rooms. Families are asked to calla special information line.
Emergency Medical Service spokeswoman Ilze Bukša:
"26 people have been taken to hospitals with different injuries – fractures, concussions, wounds [..]. There are severe injuries, ribcage injuries, internal organ damage."
Criminal case is launched
On the first night of the tragedy, police are launching criminal proceedings over a possible breach of building regulations that has led to severe consequences. Around 20:00, there are reports that representatives of construction firm Re&Re are also arriving at the scene along with technical supervisors, designers and builders of the Maxima store project, but they are yet to comment on the causes of the roof collapse. Inguss Vircavs, head of Rīga construction authority, says on the evening of the tragedy that no prima facie shortcomings can be found in the shop's project documents.
Representatives of Rīga local government and government, including Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis (Unity) and Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (Unity), are also arriving at the scene. The head of government declared:
“We have agreed to convene a meeting of the Crisis Management Board tomorrow morning to discuss further actions. It is, of course, premature to name the perpetrators at this time, but it is clear that the police must carry out this investigation at the quickest possible pace and discover any offenses.”
November 22, half past midnight. Rescue services confirm at least six dead. Over 30 have been saved. Rescuers silence all engines and interrupt works for a moment to hear any voices or phone calls. Loved ones gather around the scene. Rescuers work throughout the night, ambulances come and go.
Latvian Radio journalist Sintija Ambote reports:
"18 people are confirmed dead. I am currently where families have gathered. There are young people, elderly people [..]/. I talked to a man who's waiting for his wife who is still inside. He said there is hope, but it is very hard to watch the casualties being brought out."
The next morning
At 9:41 in the morning, the number of victims has reached 25.
The death count grows quickly. Phone calls are still heard under the rubble. A three-day mourning period is announced throughout the country, flags with black ribbons are hoisted. By the afternoon, the number of deaths has doubled. Latvian Radio reports in the evening:
"The Zolitūde tragedy is the biggest since the restoration of independence. Rescue works go on for 24 hours and the latest information confirms 47 deaths."
Police create a map of people's possible whereabouts in the store based on CCTV footage. Volunteers gather around, erecting a tent nearby and offering food and tea for those working at the scene and those waiting. Candles and flowers are brought. Work continues through the next night.
The third day and third collapse
On the morning of November 23, the death toll is 52.
Rescuers continue work until they find a crack in one of the structures and interrupt works until the structure is dismantled. After 17:00, the final casualty is found.
20 minutes later a third collapse occurs. Nobody is hurt. To prevent further risk to firefighters, works are suspended until the next morning. More and more people arrive to commemorate the victims.
"We don't know how to help. I donated blood yesterday but to be fair, the whole day and today... We came to put some candles here to get some sort of closure. The impact is... shocking. And it will take a long time to recover."
"Why was there sand [construction work] on the roof, it had some sort of intention. Had there been a storm, blizzard, something collapses, but nothing, fine weather, no wind, and a building collapses. My friends died. What now, who to ask... Nobody!"
Rescue works finish
On November 24 search and rescue works continue. In the afternoon, the unsafe structures are dismantled, and controlled collapses are carried out so firefighters can continue work. Rescue work is finished on November 25, 15:40.
Searches were ongoing in total for 94 hours. 557 people participated, and the death toll is 54.
On November 25 at 10:00 a moment of silence is held throughout Latvia.
LSM has covered the aftermath of the tragedy and the lengthy court proceedings over the years under the topic Zolitūde disaster.