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After 36 Hours in Darkness, Two Women Pulled from Rubble

October 29, 1996

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ For 36 hours, Samantha Miksche was entombed in the darkness of a collapsed 12-story apartment building. The American teen-ager heard the cries of other survivors, the barking of search dogs and the rumble of equipment boring through the ruins.

On Tuesday, exhausted rescue workers pulled her and a friend from the rubble _ bruised and bleeding, but alive.

``I’m very tired,″ said Miksche, a 17-year-old from Los Angeles whose mother was among dozens of people still missing as the desperate search for survivors entered its third day.

Hundreds of people waited near the wreckage, some demanding justice and others begging for their trapped friends and relatives to somehow emerge from the rubble.

``Have mercy on us!″ one man shouted.

A breeze carried the stench of death over the site, where a worker sprayed disinfectant. Ten teen-agers sat in a circle, each reading from the Koran. At times, some would cry or hug a companion, waiting for news about trapped relatives or friends.

Workers, some of whom had not slept for 48 hours, used cranes, shovels, picks and their bare hands to search for survivors amid the wreckage, turning up a bloodied pillow, a blue purse, a picture frame, even a school notebook.

``The child who was doing his homework, what did he do to deserve to die?″ shouted a woman who collapsed in the street.

By nightfall Tuesday, the death toll had risen to at least 25, but dozens more were still missing and feared dead, police said. At least 23 survivors have been rescued since the building’s collapse Sunday night, but until the two women were found Tuesday, 21 hours had elapsed without anyone being found alive, police said.

As many as 150 people, most of them Egyptians, were believed to have been in the building’s apartments and offices.

Workers pulled Miksche and her 19-year-old Egyptian friend, Noha Fawzi, from a hallway that had not collapsed in a second-floor apartment that Miksche was considering renting.

As they were lying under the debris, the two young women could hear the rumble of equipment removing slabs of concrete, twisted metal and pulverized masonry above them, said Noha Wagih, a friend of Miksche’s at the hospital.

Dogs brought by German rescue workers located them, alerting workers who followed their shouts for help, Wagih said.

During the hours beneath the ruins, Fawzi recited verses from the Koran as she listened to the cries of others trapped nearby, she told Egypt’s Middle East News Agency. She said their shouts began fading Monday evening, 12 hours before she was rescued.

``I had something like a hallucination and I kept hearing voices and seeing people were coming to rescue us,″ she said.

Doctors said they had cuts and bruises and were dehydrated, but were otherwise in good shape. Miksche spoke briefly to The Associated Press by telephone Tuesday, but later was said to be under sedation.

There was no word on Miksche’s Egyptian-American mother, identified by the Egyptian news agency as Samira Ismail Kassab.

At daybreak, government soldiers cordoned off the area. Rescue workers and police complained that thousands of people were milling about the five-story-high pile of debris, hampering their work. Nine people were arrested Monday for scavenging.

Some rescue workers wore light blue kerchiefs to block the stench.

``Because we are alive, we have plenty of time to sleep later,″ said Samir Ahmed, a 21-year-old army conscript, his face smeared with dirt and dust flaking off his eyelashes.

The cause of the collapse was under investigation. Police have arrested the building’s owner, a contractor and an engineering consultant. Investigators suspect renovation work being done in an apartment may have weakened the building’s structure.

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