History Buried in the Rubble: Cologne Archive Building Collapses

The building housing Cologne's municipal archive collapsed on Tuesday, bringing parts of some surrounding structures down with it. At least two people are missing. Some of the documents housed in the archive date back to the year 922.

First they heard loud creaking noises. Then, workers in the Cologne city archive building were ordered to get out as quickly as they could. Shortly afterwards, the entire structure collapsed, bringing down parts of neighboring buildings along with it.

The disaster on early Tuesday afternoon took place right in the heart of the city. Eyewitnesses reported huge clouds of dust as the rubble from the building completely covered the street. "The entire intersection was covered in a dark fog," Paraskevi Oustampasiadi, a local shopkeeper, told the German news agency DPA. "It looked like Sept. 11."

Some 200 fire fighters rushed to the scene. It was unclear whether anyone had lost their lives in the collapse. A police spokesman told SPIEGEL ONLINE that a married couple, who was said to have been in a neighboring building which partially collapsed, is missing. Police dogs are currently searching the rubble.

Cologne Fire Chief Stefan Neuhoff told reporters during a press conference on early Tuesday evening that he wasn't aware of anyone injured in the building's collapse. Earlier in the day, a fire department spokesman had said it was likely that people had been trapped in the debris.

Police say that a group of people left the building shortly before the disaster after hearing loud groaning noises. Neuhoff said it appeared that all archive workers were able to get out in time.

Two years ago, a number of cracks were discovered in the walls of the building, but it was determined that they did not pose a danger. There was no word as to the possible cause of the building's collapse. It was also unclear if ongoing work on the Cologne subway, which runs down the street in front of the collapsed building, played a role. According to the Rolf Papst, director of the subway project, most of the heavy work on the subway line was completed more than a year ago.

Cologne's historical archive is the largest such municipal collection north of the Alps. It contains some 65,000 documents pertaining to the city's history, including one dating all the way back to the year 922. The archive also contains some half a million photographs. The building which collapsed on Tuesday was built in 1971 to house the archive.

cgh -- with wire reports

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