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As Machinery Prepares To Move In, Bomb Scene Slowly Changes

May 2, 1995

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Trucks and cranes carted debris from towering piles outside the federal building Tuesday, clearing a path for machinery that will lift rubble from an area where many bodies are believed to be.

Authorities did not say exactly when they plan to abandon hand searches in the area known as ``the pit.″ They said more debris must be removed from the surrounding area before a rubble-extraction vehicle known as a trackhoe can be brought in.

``Nobody wants to give up hope of finding somebody in there,″ said Jeff Bekeris, a rescue worker from Orange County, Calif. But ``using the machinery can speed things up.″

Bekeris said rescuers are ``being very gentle and careful to look for any void spaces″ as they clear piles containing file cabinets, office equipment and paper.

Engineers with laser scopes are poised to sound warning horns if debris removal causes the building to shift, Bekeris said. And elevators on the building’s east side are working, allowing access to the roof.

Beyond the piles, in the ``pit″ area, authorities believe, are the bodies of dozens still missing.

``We know where some victims are. We just can’t get to them yet,″ said Oklahoma City firefighter Todd Custer. ``And that’s our goal _ to get them out without the heavy equipment.″

The trackhoe has been used twice, but not in the pit area, Assistant Fire Chief Jon Hansen said.

Families whose loved ones are still missing are acknowledging that, for the sake of worker safety, the heavy equipment rather than hand searches must be used.

``No one likes the idea of their loved ones not being found. And yet I see people responding with a lot of maturity and rationality,″ said Terry Pace, a University of Oklahoma psychologist who has been counseling families.

Jim Texter, whose wife, Victoria, is missing, agreed.

``It’s inevitable, and I certainly understand it,″ he said Monday afternoon. ``If they need to change the tactics ... then that’s what they should do.″

An Associated Press reporter in a helicopter saw workers removing debris from two large piles in front of the building, and the structure looked even more frail when viewed from 3,000 feet up.

The blown-out chunk resembles a vast bite mark. Heavy machinery encircles the building, and debris clutters neighboring rooftops.

Rescuers have adorned the building with flags _ American, Oklahoman and those of their organizations. They often hold impromptu services inside before leaving for the day.

Two blocks from the site, haphazard memorials have given way to a small street-corner tent under which flowers, stuffed animals and even a bottle of bubble-blowing soap have been placed. People gathered there Tuesday.

___

EDITOR’S NOTE: Associated Press writer Libby Quaid contributed to this report.

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