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Grim Day’s Work For Crew Digging Out One Apartment

January 20, 1995

KOBE, Japan (AP) _ The wind was chilly, the sky was threatening, and the work was grim at one apartment building where workers still hoped for life.

The seven-story building was one of thousands reduced to rubble. Somewhere under tons of cement and steel were a dozen people. Workers hoped to find them alive, but knew the odds were with death.

In two days of arduous digging, fifteen people had been pulled out by Friday _ only five of them alive.

``The situation is terrible, and it’s going to get worse,″ said a crewman, a member of the self-defense forces, one of thousands of troops dispatched to the scene of Tuesday’s devastating quake.

``We’re doing all we can, and we hope that there’ll be more cases like the little boy we rescued last night,″ he said.

That 9-year-old boy was one of the few bright spots in a bleak landscape. Little Shinsuke Yamada was rescued nearly 60 hours after the quake.

He suffered some injuries to his hands and face, but he was hospitalized in good condition. It wasn’t immediately clear whether his parents had survived.

The complex, built soon after World War II, housed a store on the ground floor, offices on the second, and 21 apartments.

Part of the building caught fire Tuesday, following the quake, so the rescue effort didn’t get under way in earnest until the following day.

The building’s owner, Yoshiaki Yamaguchi, had been there every day since the quake, watching the workers dig.

``It’s awful,″ he said.

Four large cranes were being used to lift the rubble piece by piece, so as not to crush anyone pinned beneath. The cranes’ pincers seized chunks of reinforced concrete and refrigerators.

As the rescuers dug, they came across valuable like documents or jewelry. They carried them carefully into a makeshift morgue where relatives awaited news.

Aya Koizumi, 20, went to high school with one of those trapped inside. She came to watch and pray. ``There’s still a chance they can save him.″

Shohei Kamata was a college classmate of one of those buried in the building. He was living in another part of Japan when the quake hit, but hurried home to check on friends and family.

``I saw lots of coverage of the earthquake on TV, so I’ve gotten used to the terrible scenes, but still it’s a shock to see the actual thing,″ he said.

At midmorning, there was a ripple of activity. The workers had found something.

The heavy equipment was called off. Army and police rescue workers moved in with shovels and pickaxes; some dug with their hands.

Forty minutes later, they brought out the first of three bodies.

Anger and exhaustion were beginning to take their toll and tensions finally boiled over.

Four young men, relatives of some of those trapped, became furious when they saw news photographers taking pictures of the dead being pulled from the rubble. They attacked two Associated Press photographers, kicking one and breaking the cameras of both.

``How can you take pictures of our dead while we’re suffering?″ they shouted.

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