Search for Venezuela quake survivors presses on
Student: Floor dropped 'like an elevator'
In this story:
July 11, 1997
Web posted at: 1:20 p.m. EDT (1720 GMT)
CARIACO, Venezuela (CNN) -- Student Ernesto Gomez will never
forget his last day of the 1997 school year. Anxious students
were finishing final exams and preparing for summer break
when the ground convulsed and the ceilings caved in.
"The floors came down like an elevator," said Gomez, 17, who
was rescued from the rubble. "I was on the top floor and
when the earthquake struck, I landed on the bottom."
About 40 people in the Cariaco school were crushed to death
Wednesday in Venezuela's worst earthquake in three decades.
All but three of the dead were students.
The quake killed at least 67 people.
Officials feared the death toll would rise. President Rafael
Caldera has declared the region a disaster area.
Calls for help
Rescue crews doubled efforts Friday in their search for
possible survivors. Firefighters fed 50-foot air hoses down
holes opened in the rubble. Workers cut through concrete and
steel with jackhammers and blowtorches.
"We've injected air to help anybody still alive to keep
going," fire chief Angel Freites said. "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 certainty."
In Cumana, about 340 miles (544 km) east of state capital
Caracas, rescuers worked cautiously to extract victims from a
seven-story building. Crews could hear faint calls for help
as they combed the twisted steel and concrete. About seven
people were believed trapped.
Cumana is South America's oldest inhabited city.
'Our children are dead'
Most of the damage and deaths occurred in Cariaco, a tiny
town of 13,000 where about 75 percent of the buildings and
homes were destroyed.
Signs of destruction were everywhere in the farming
community. The high school and a nursing school were
destroyed along with a bank office, a pool hall, and a coffee
shop where half a dozen people were killed.
Residents spent the night outside with neighbors, reluctant
to enter their homes.
"I'm afraid to allow my kids inside," said Gladis Gomes, a
37-year-old teacher. "There could be another tremor that
could be worse."
Along the small villages that line the highway between Cumana
and Cariaco, survivors lit candles and stayed in makeshift
Mothers sobbed as President Caldera paid a brief visit
Thursday. "Our houses are ruined, our children are dead,"
one woman said.
The Associated Press and
Reuters contributed to this report
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