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Shattered City Waits For A Time To Heal Gathering At Dusk Near Bomb Site Becomes Ritual

Associated Press

From the church foyer where they gather for the hardest wait of their lives, families of lost loved ones go to see Ellie Lottinville - volunteer counselor and comforting ear when word of death finally comes.

She listens. She talks. She hugs. When it ends, she goes into another room to be counseled herself. And the cycle begins once more.

The psychologist is doing the same work she did a week ago. But today, instead of being dreaded as she brought word of death, her presence represents closure: a body found and a tough milestone passed.

“In the beginning there was hope. Now the hope is gone,” said Lottinville. “Now they have a new fear: ‘What if they don’t find my person?’ “

The weary people of Oklahoma City have lost more than family and friends. They have lost peace of mind.

“We always felt safe because we weren’t a big city,” said Darlene Hibdon, family services director at Arlington Memory Gardens, where 13 victims have been buried, including a mother and toddler in the same casket. Funerals are held daily.

“We don’t feel safe any more,” Hibdon said. “And we never will again.”

Mixed with disbelief and sorrow is a tide of good feelings. Decisive action has bathed the community and amazed even jaded disaster veterans.

Five blocks south of the federal building is a symbol of unity: the Myriad Convention Center, an operations base for rescuers. It has grown into a city of hope.

Donated food and supplies tower 15 feet, from cases of canned fruit juice to 10-pound cans of nacho dip to Moon Pies. Clothing contributions stretch across 50 yards of tables and rescuers select what they need. Tobacco, free haircuts and massages are there for the taking.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says 10,000 rescuers have worked at the site; 1,800 remain. Lt. Ruben Almaguer, a Miami rescue worker, has entered the federal building at 8 p.m. and emerged at 8 a.m. for a week. He has pulled five bodies out and located three more.

“You pick up a rock and you think, ‘Before April 19, this was a building.’ That amazes me,” Almaguer said. “We all just sit in awe and wonder about what occurred on this piece of land in the middle of what we in Miami consider nowhere.”

Near the bombed building, in a downtown strewn with shattered glass, police tape keeps onlookers two blocks away. Locals talk of seeing unfamiliar parts of the city because barricades force them to use circuitous routes.

Flags everywhere are at half staff, with a notable exception: the one atop the federal building. It flies above the destruction, unbowed.

In what has become a nightly ritual, people come to the cordons and mill around at dusk, staring up at the twisted shell of a building bathed in ghostly floodlights. Often they bring their young children. They talk as if in a library.

When crews are finished retrieving bodies, the building becomes a crime scene for the FBI and probably will be sealed off for weeks, emergency officials said.

Then, many hope, Oklahoma City can truly start to recover.

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