May 31, 1995 in Nation/World

Rescuers Slowly Unbury Victims Of Russia Quake

Associated Press

Chunk by chunk, the digging went on through the frigid night, the rescuers throwing shadows amid miners’ lamps, car headlights, and the occasional generator-powered floodlight.

Driven by the fear that quake victims were dying hourly, rescue teams pressed ahead Tuesday night, straining to reach those buried alive by Sunday’s 7.5 magnitude quake. Officials fear that up to 2,000 people of the town’s 3,200 people are dead.

On Tuesday, the rescuers were rewarded with 33 people found alive in the rubble. So far, 372 injured people have been found - and 377 bodies.

Earlier Tuesday, cranes and bulldozers periodically fell silent, allowing rescuers to hear the moans of the injured.

The rescue work is painstaking. The concrete slabs that made up the shoddy apartment buildings of this remote town must be moved carefully to avoid crushing anyone still alive underneath. Most digging is by hand.

One rescue team from a mining town spent 8 1/2 hours Tuesday digging out a woman and a little child. “We saved two people today,” said the weary but triumphant team leader, Viktor Khizhlyakov.

At another site, workers tunneled through the wreckage to a woman trapped in her bed on an upper floor, buried from the waist down.

Her children were asleep in the next room when the quake, one of the strongest in Russian history, struck. She said she could hear them and urged rescue teams to keep digging for the children.

Most of those dug out of the rubble are badly injured and in deep shock, doctors at the scene told Russian television.

“In some cases we’re helpless,” one said Tuesday. “They are what doctors in wartime call the ‘dead who just haven’t had time yet to die.”’

Ivan Laryushkin had just gone to bed in his little wooden house Sunday when he heard a loud roar. He ran outside with his wife and daughter. “There was no town. Only smoke and darkness,” the 33-year-old oil worker said.

“There was a terrible silence. And then, as one, people began to moan and scream for help. I stood there and thought: There is nothing I can do.”

Laryushkin sat hunched by a bonfire Tuesday near the mound of rubble that was once his parent’s apartment building. Next to him sat a neighbor who lost 13 members of his family.

“They are telling us to leave, threatening to take us away,” Laryushkin said. “But I won’t leave until we find all the dead and bury them.”

In Moscow, President Boris Yeltsin went on nationwide television to appeal to the hundreds of rescue workers in Neftegorsk and to declare that today would be a national day of mourning.

Neftegorsk was a modest place, a product of an oil boom and one of the Soviet Union’s infamous “fiveyear plans.” Most of it - 17 fivestory apartment buildings with 80 apartments each - was thrown up quickly on sandy soil from prefabricated slabs of unreinforced concrete starting in 1967. Few streets were paved.

All 17 apartment buildings collapsed in the quake. Little else was left. A small statue of Lenin is still intact among the ruins, as is a large sign saying “Glory to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Glory to Labor.”

Officials said the town would not be rebuilt.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SLOW SEARCH Up to 2,000 people of the town’s 3,200 people are dead, officials fear. But fewer than 400 bodies have been recovered.

This sidebar appeared with the story: SLOW SEARCH Up to 2,000 people of the town’s 3,200 people are dead, officials fear. But fewer than 400 bodies have been recovered.

© Copyright 1995 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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