Rescue workers searched frantically for survivors yesterday in the debris of a collapsed ice rink in the German Alps as police raised the death toll to at least 10, many of them children.
Police said they feared a total of 15 people may have died in the tragedy Monday on one of the final days of Germany's Christmas school holidays.
Battling snow and cold, rescuers were worried more parts of the roof could still cave in, turning the search in the town of Bad Reichenhall into a race against time.
"We are not giving up hope," said Franz Leipfinger, the chief doctor on the scene, when asked about the chances of survival for those still trapped in the rubble.
Four cranes were holding up the parts of the roof that were still intact as sniffer dogs were sent in to hunt for skaters under the debris.
The rescue operation was also hampered by continuing heavy snow.
The fire brigade said half the rink had been searched by early Tuesday, but that other areas could not yet be reached because of the danger of the rest of the roof collapsing.
Public television network ZDF said that rescuers held some hope of finding survivors after hearing noises probably from people trapped under the rubble, but the fire brigade could not confirm the report.
An added complication is that any survivors may be pressed against the ice and at risk of hypothermia, said a spokesman for the private aid group Maltese Association, which sent staff to counsel victims' families.
Police said nine bodies, including six children, had been retrieved while a seventh child died on the way to a hospital in the nearby Austrian city of Salzburg.
Authorities expected the death toll to rise: "Several bodies have been detected among the rubble and they are probably dead although for the moment, we cannot reach them," said Hubertus Andra, heading the rescue effort.
It was not immediately clear what caused the roof of the building, which dates from the 1970s, to cave in, in a region accustomed to heavy snowfall.
The coach of a local ice hockey club, Thomas Rumpeltes, said overlying snow was due to have been cleared from the roof before its collapse.
Rumpeltes said authorities told him of the impending clearance at 1430 GMT - half an hour before the accident - and he canceled a practice at the rink for a youth team.
He said no one had warned of any risk of collapse and that the snow removal was a precautionary measure.
Bad Reichhall Mayor Wolfgang Heitmeier dismissed accusations of negligence for allowing the rink to remain open, saying the roof had been examined in the late morning Monday to determine whether it could withstand the weight of the snow.
He told reporters the amount of snow was far below the specified limit.
Heitmeier also rejected speculation that the authorities knew of structural problems, saying he "could not explain" what caused the collapse.
The dead so far included a woman of 35 and two teenagers, one male and one female, police said. The children, four girls and two boys, were aged between nine and 12.
Another boy, 12, was rescued and initially resuscitated, but died before he could be brought to a hospital in Salzburg.
All came from the region.
The accident also left 34 people injured, 18 of them seriously.
Hundreds of rescue workers, including staff from nearby Salzburg, rushed to the scene, while many residents of this Bavarian Alps spa resort waited nearby for news of relatives or friends.
Specially-trained avalanche dogs were also deployed.
They did get some good news late Monday; shortly after 2200 GMT - around seven hours after the roof collapsed - a woman and a six-year-old girl were pulled from the debris suffering only from bruising and the cold.