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Workers Use Listening Devices In Hopes of Finding Survivors

March 19, 1986

SINGAPORE (AP) _ Workers hauling away the debris of a six-story hotel that collapsed five days ago paused at intervals today to listen with electronic devices for signs of survivors in the rubble, but found only three more bodies.

Officials said the bodies recovered today, of an Indian man, an Indian woman, and one that has not been identifed, brought the official death toll to 14 since the 67-room Hotel New World collapsed Saturday.

Seventeen people have been pulled alive from the wreckage, the last one late Tuesday.

Officials estimate another 45 people may be buried, but hope of their survival waned today.

Army doctor Lt. Col. Lim Meng Kin, who was at the site, said that in such accidents the chances of buried victims surviving drops sharply after five days.

But civil defense specialist Col. B. Doran told reporters that a person could survive in the rubble ″a long time. ... If they are not injured, even two weeks.″

He acknowledged that chances of finding more survivors were ″very, very poor,″ but added, ″Till the last moment, we must try to save people.... We lift and search.″

Workers brought out a female accountant, Chua Kim Choo, 45, late Tuesday.

Bulldozers, power shovels, front-end loaders, four heavy cranes and other equipment were digging at the top of the debris, and trucks hauled away the wreckage.

Cement dust whirled in the air and the stench of death grew as trucks hauled away broken beds, torn carpets and stained mattresses.

Lim Sim Kim, operations director at the Home Affairs Ministry, said at a news conference, ″We are running against time. Care will be taken to ensure that if there are survivors, they will not be injured by rescue operations.″

Lim said the workers were halting at intervals and dropping electronic listening devices into crevices.

Volunteers with bullhorns called into the holes - speaking in Mandarin Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil, Singapore’s four official languages - for any survivors to make themselves known.

″Hello 3/8 Don’t move. Make some noise,″ one worker shouted. There was no reply and the heavy machinery moved in again.

Rescue workers heard what they thought was tapping during one pre-dawn check, but it could not be traced and was not picked up again.

Lim of the Home Affairs Ministry said rescue workers also had a miniature television camera usually used to inspect underground pipes and an infra-red heat detection system.

The cause of the collapse was not known.

The Hotel New World shared the 15-year-old Lian Yak Building with a nightclub, a branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank and a basement parking garage.

Bank clerk Christina Phua Chiou Fang, 21, was quoted by the Straits Times newspaper today as saying that not long before the building fell down, she watched people in the basement try to prop up the floor with wood.

″It is not verifiable,″ Lim said when asked about the report. All such evidence would be collected by an official commission investigating the collapse, he said.

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew called the collapse unprecedented and said, ″There were no apparent reasons.″

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