Venezuelan Rescuers Pump Air into Quake Ruins
CARIACO, Venezuela (Reuter) - Search teams pumped oxygen Friday into the mangled ruins of an office block flattened by an earthquake that killed at least 68 people in eastern Venezuela, many of them children buried in classrooms.
''We've injected air to help anybody
still alive to keep going,'' said fire chief Angel Freites as firemen fed
hoses down holes opened in the rubble of what was once a six-story building.
''That's our hope. We can't guarantee
it 100 percent, but every rescuer's dream is to find someone alive.
But it's not a
The quake, measured at 6.9 on the Richter
scale, struck Wednesday afternoon, sending schools, houses and tower
blocks crashing to the ground.
''Up to now we have recovered 22 bodies
from the building. This brings the official death toll to 68,'' Civil Defense
director Francisco Espin told Reuters as he supervised rescuers in the Sucre state capital Cumana, 255 miles east of
Espin said eight more bodies had been located within the twisted metal and concrete and the death toll could rise.
Camped out in a plastic tent next to
the ruined building, Omar Barrios refused to give up hope that his 5-year-old
were still alive beneath the mound of concrete and steel.
''I know they're alive, I can feel it,''
said Barrios, 49, who lived in a first-floor apartment in the building.
waiting for them to be rescued.''
Firemen briefly stopped pumping oxygen into the wreckage Thursday night to listen for signs of life.
''(We heard) nothing. There was too much other noise,'' said geologist Feliciano De Santis.
State Governor Ramon Martinez said 469
people were injured in the quake -- Venezuela's worst for three decades
-- and 48 people were pulled alive from wrecked buildings. About 700 buildings were damaged, he said.
The majority of the deaths occurred
in the small agricultural town Cariaco, 40 miles east of Cumana, where
a high school
and nursery school fell on pupils and teachers.
At least 41 bodies were recovered from
among the fallen masonry and scattered exercise books. Two-year-old infants
and an 81-year-old man were among the dead.
For many of the children, Thursday was to have been the last day of classes before the summer break.
Fear that the tragedy at the Raimundo
Martinez Centeno high school in Cariaco was far worse eased late Thursday
rescuers uncovered an empty classroom thought to contain up to 100 bodies. The pupils had managed to scramble to
safety through a tiny gap left after the roof crashed onto their desks, rescuers said.
Cariaco, a tiny town of 13,000, bore the brunt of the quake, which devastated three quarters of its buildings.
Residents spent their second night Thursday
sleeping on plastic sheets in the debris-strewn streets and in the local
sports stadium. Local authorities declared a curfew.
In the small villages that line the recently
re-opened highway between Cumana and Cariaco, survivors lit candles and
spent the night sitting on plastic chairs in improvised shelters.
Mothers sobbed as President Rafael Caldera,
who declared three days of national mourning, paid a brief visit to the
Thursday. ''Our houses are ruined, our children dead,'' said one woman.
The French embassy confirmed one French
citizen was killed by the quake. There were no other reports of foreigners
among the dead or injured.
Urban Development Minister Julio Marti said early damage estimates were $8 million.
The quake, the worst to hit Venezuela
since 1967, struck at 3:25 p.m. EDT on Wednesday. The epicenter was about
miles off the northeastern Caribbean coast.
More than 30 aftershocks have been recorded, causing considerable alarm but no further damage.
The 1967 quake killed about 300 in the Venezuela capital and surrounding areas.
(11 Jul 1997 17:31 EDT)
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