Police and firefighters, exhausted after three days of searching the bombed hulk of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, faced the prospect Friday that no more survivors will be pulled from the wreckage.
“It’s getting to the point where it may take a miracle for someone to get out of there,” said Jon Hansen, assistant chief of the Oklahoma City Fire Department.
“It’s a very gruesome scene. It’s more like a morgue scene.”
Hope was still alive Friday morning, but it died when fire department officials announced the discovery of nearly 50 bodies in an area where they thought there might be survivors.
Hansen also disclosed that two bodies had been found across the street in a heavily damaged building that houses the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.
The assistant chief said the rescue teams had been “working feverishly” in the round-theclock effort, sometimes having to climb over bodies and body parts in the hunt for survivors.
Rescuers had to cope with choking dust, the stench of decaying flesh and dripping water as they combed through the rubble foot by foot in their methodical search.
“There’s a steady stream of debris removal; there’s a steady stream of activity going on,” Hansen said.
“And there’s firefighters from all over that are dedicated, and it’s a real sight to see how motivated those men and women still are.”
Hansen said firefighters from as far away as New York, Sacramento, Calif., and Phoenix combed the ruins of the nine-story building, devastated Wednesday morning by a terrorist bomb planted in a rented truck.
“Firefighters are having to systematically by hand, using shovels, pick up the debris and look for victims,” he said. “There are a lot of victims in there. We can see victims that are trapped.”
Some rescue workers loaded debris into 5-gallon pails and galvanized tubs. Others watched for such hazards as a collapsing floor or a slide of rubble.
Capt. Ed Vasques, a member of the Sacramento Urban Search and Rescue Technical Team that works the 1 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift, said the 60-member squad is expected to be in Oklahoma City the next several days to help with the recovery of bodies.
He said the building, with chunks of concrete dangling precariously, had to be shored up for rescuers to continue their search; they sometimes crawled into spaces no higher than 2 feet.
Every few hours, teams of about 50 search and rescue workers, wearing gloves, masks, goggles and protective headgear, mustered near the building for directions on where to work. The would break into smaller groups, some of them accompanied by dogs to help locate bodies.
“This is by far the worst thing that I’ve ever seen,” Vasques said. “We had a couple of guys that got activated in Desert Storm and they said a Scud attack didn’t look like this.”
He said the California team has been removing debris and chunks of concrete with jackhammers and shoring up the wreckage with timber. Cranes and earth-moving machinery worked around the clock with the help of racks of stadium-type lights. An orange constructionsite elevator was set up to transport workers to the upper levels of the building.
Melva Noakes, who had owned the day-care center in the federal building for about three weeks, said Friday morning: “When you hold a child in your arms, give them medicine, hug them, change their diapers, and then the next day you find out it’s gone….”
Her voice trailed off into tears.
“I’ve been in this business so many years; kids are my life, and I love them,” she said.
“It’s a calling from God to work with kids, but I never anticipated anything like this.”