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World - Europe

Balcony collapses in Russian sports arena, killing 22

People lift a large section of the fallen balcony in southern Russia  
June 25, 1998
Web posted at: 9:28 p.m. EDT (0128 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- A balcony holding more than 100 people, mostly children, collapsed onto the crowded floor of a sports stadium in southern Russia Thursday, killing 22 people and injuring 39 others during a wrestling tournament.

An emergencies ministry spokesman said two children were among the dead, and many of the injured also were youngsters. They were rushed to a nearby hospital.

"People started screaming. There was panic, but everybody's first reaction was shock," said Vladimir Sherbakov, a local sports journalist who was covering the tournament at the Trudovye Rezervy indoor sports complex in Nalchik.

The city is about 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) south of Moscow in the Kabardino-Balkaraya republic.

Scenes from the collapse
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The concrete balcony gave way about 11:40 a.m. (0740 GMT) at the start of the Russian National Freestyle Wrestling Competition. The 50-meter-long (160-foot-long) balcony fell about 5 meters (16 feet) onto the spectators below.

Wrestlers and some of the estimated 2,500 people in the audience rushed to help people trapped beneath the rubble.

People at wall
People cling to a wall after the balcony collapses  

"Within 10 minutes, the wrestlers had lifted the fallen pieces off and freed the people underneath," Sherbakov said.

He described the balcony as a standing-room-only area where nonpaying spectators could watch the event. Most of those on the balcony were children, who could not afford tickets, he said.

Poor construction may have contributed to collapse

The stadium was in poor condition, according to Sherbakov. Construction on the complex started 15 years ago, but it was not finished until 1994 because of funding problems.

"It could have collapsed because of poor construction, but there were also too many people on the balcony," Sherbakov said.

Seats with rocks
Chunks of concrete litter seats  

Alexander Khashkhovov, assistant to Karbardino-Balkaraya president Valery Kokov, said the collapse occurred because the stadium was old. But NTV television said police believe negligence in the construction process may have caused it.

Local officials have started a criminal investigation to determine who was responsible for the tragedy.

Shoddy construction and poor maintenance are endemic in Russia, where funds for the construction and repair of public buildings have mostly disappeared since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Correspondent Steve Harrigan, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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