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Argentine rescuers find cat; 11 people yet missing

August 9, 2013

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A cat was pulled alive from the ruins of an apartment building that collapsed in a huge gas explosion, but with 11 people still missing, hundreds of rescuers tried without success Thursday to find more human victims.

Authorities identified 10 of the dead, and by late Thursday rescuers were working to pull three out more bodies they had located in the rubble.

More than 60 people were injured as Tuesday’s blast rocked Rosario, Argentina’s third-largest city, and several remained in critical condition.

“Until we remove the last brick, we’ll always expect to find people alive,” federal police commissioner Angel Poidomani, leading one of the rescue teams, told Rosario’s La Capital newspaper Thursday morning. But by late evening, he seemed less optimistic.

“We’re working on three bodies in different places of the building. The extractions are difficult because of the kind of collapse, which requires a great deal of caution in the removal of the rubble,” Poidomani said. “We’re working with dogs and cameras to reach different places, but we still haven’t found any more signs of life.”

With damaged towers on both sides of the rubble pile in danger of collapsing on the rescuers, police and firefighters were working as carefully as possible, following the scents of the body-sniffing dogs and clues from a fiber-optic cable that captures sounds and movement.

Engineers were figuring out how to reinforce fire-damaged columns, and some heavy equipment finally got access to the pile.

Poidomani compared it to surgery. “These are nine floors of a building that ended up compacted, 5 or 6 meters high. Reaching the center of this heap is very difficult,” he said.

Politicians nationwide canceled Thursday’s closing campaign rallies ahead of Sunday’s primary elections after President Cristina Fernandez, who visited the disaster site Wednesday, called for two days of mourning nationwide. Anti-government marches went on as planned Thursday night, with fewer people joining in than during previous protests.

Two repairmen are in custody as a judge probes possible criminal negligence. Residents had asked for a valve to be replaced after complaining to the Litoral Gas company that despite a previous repair days earlier, natural gas wasn’t reaching their kitchens.

But the company said it wasn’t advised before Tuesday’s follow-up repair job, which involved replacing a valve, and wasn’t asked to turn off the gas beforehand.

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