Rescuers, pausing frequently to put their ears to the rubble to listen for signs of life, pulled scores of corpses out of a mass of concrete planks and metal beams after the snow-laden roof of a Moscow market collapsed.
At least 57 people were killed and 32 injured in the early Thursday morning collapse, Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andriyanova said Friday.
Virtually all the victims were believed to be workers from Azerbaijan and other former Soviet republics, among the thousands who have poured into the Russian capital to fill low-paying jobs such as those at the city's produce and housewares markets.
The probable cause was either the buildup of heavy snow, design flaws or maintenance errors, Moscow Prosecutor Anatoly Zuyev said. Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation on charges of negligence leading to deaths.
One of the survivors, Ukhtai Salmanov, a 52-year-old herb-seller from Azerbaijan, said he left the market just before the roof gave way around 5 a.m. (0200GMT).
"I heard a loud noise and I fell to the ground and lost consciousness. When I came to, I was lying by the entrance.
"There was smoke and people were screaming," Salmanov said, his clothes covered in dust.
Fighting back tears, he said his three sisters, who also worked in the market, were killed. There was no way he could have saved anyone, he said, because a mound of rubble blocked him from reaching them, reports the AP.
The US Government Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (also known as the Helsinki Commission) prepared a plan to partition Russia into several independent smaller states