One Year Later, A Requiem for Transvaal
By Kevin OFlynn and Oksana Yablokova
As a snow-flecked wind howled around what remains of the Transvaal water park, a small church choir sang hymns at a memorial service a few meters from its entrance.
Relatives, former employees and officials gathered Monday for the dedication of a marble plaque and wooden cross in honor of those who died when the parks roof collapsed on St. Valentines Day last year.
One year on from the day when the roof fell in, killing 28 people and injuring more than 100, there is still no official answer as to why one of the citys most prominent leisure facilities collapsed without warning.
Without anyone to blame, and with a lack of transparency as to exactly who owns the water park, claims for compensation have been stymied.
"I dont think they are ever going to say what happened," said one woman, who said her son was killed in the disaster but would not give her name. "You know that and so do I," she added, her eyes bloodshot and teary.
Twenty-eight names are listed alphabetically on the plaque, with 10 in pairs — an indication that five families lost two members in the tragedy. As the choir sang and priests waved incense, relatives stood in the freezing cold, then placed flowers and framed photographs of the dead in front of the plaque and put lit candles inside plastic bottles to protect them from the wind.
Deputy Mayor Valery Shantsev was the highest-ranking city official present at the ceremony, laying a small bouquet of red carnations next to the other flowers after the service. He said that there would be no report on the disaster published until June at the earliest, but Moscow City Prosecutor Anatoly Zuyev promised to release the findings and take action against those responsible within a few weeks.
"We are counting on receiving the results from the Experts Commission at the end of February. After receiving the results, the causes of the tragedy will be established and those responsible will be found," Zuyev said, Interfax reported.
Zuyev said that the investigation, which he is personally responsible for, is taking so long because of the complexity of the case.
The water parks roof collapsed at about 7:15 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 14, when an estimated 352 people were in the parks swimming pool. Police said about 800 people were in the complex.
Prosecutors dismissed initial fears that the collapse was due to a terrorist attack, and a preliminary report into the disaster blamed a design fault in the parks construction.
The commission will decide what caused the collapse — whether a design or construction fault, or a failure to comply with building maintenance and safety requirements — said Igor Trunov, a lawyer representing 14 families of the Transvaal victims and survivors.
Many critics have blamed what they say is widespread corruption in the citys construction business and within the city governments control of the building trade for the disaster.
Survivors and relatives have said they believe the prosecutors are deliberately dragging their feet with the investigation in an attempted cover-up to shield those who should be held accountable.
On Friday, Trunov filed a lawsuit at Moskvoretsky District Court on behalf of two survivors, Dmitry Denisov and Tamara Papitashvili, protesting prosecutors decision to extend the investigation by another four months.
Last week, prosecutors announced that the investigation would continue until at least June 14. Prosecutors said that some 200 tests conducted so far have not determined what caused the collapse. Investigators have asked the Justice Ministrys Experts Commission to establish the cause.
Calls to the Moscow Prosecutors Office about the investigation went unanswered Monday.
Trunov said that he found it surprising that investigators were so confident that an explosion or other "external forces" did not cause the collapse.
"If they are so sure that it was not a terrorist attack, that means they have the Experts Commissions conclusion already. So why dont they release the rest of it?" Trunov said by telephone Monday.
Trunov said that the survivors are concerned that the case will drag on indefinitely and no one will be punished in the end.
"Practice shows that the more time it takes, the more likely it is that those who are really to blame will never be held accountable," he said, adding that key evidence could be lost over time.
Trunov said that Papitashvili, who lost her son and husband in the tragedy, and had both legs amputated due to her injuries, cannot even hope to receive any compensation through the court now, as all documents proving her injuries remain with the prosecutors office and investigators insist they need them to complete their inquiries.
After the ceremony, Sergei Arsentyev, the head of Yevropeiskiye Tekhnologii i Servis, the company operating the water park, said he was unhappy with the investigation and that was why his company was refusing to pay out court-ordered compensation awards.
In the last year, local courts have ordered the firm to pay compensation in two cases, including one of 500,000 rubles ($17,000) to Yulia Milogorodskaya, an 8-year-old girl who was injured and lost both parents in the disaster.
Yevropeiskiye Tekhnologii i Servis refused to pay the damage, and part of the firms property including four vehicles and gym equipment was arrested by court bailiffs and is expected to go on sale shortly, Interfax reported Monday.
No decision has yet been made on whether to pull down the water park or rebuild it. So for now, the cracked shell of the building looms over the memorial to those who died there.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005. Issue 3106. Page 1.