Search for Mexico quake survivors enters fourth day

A handler and his rescue dog look for victims at the site of a quake-collapsed seven-story building in Mexico City's Roma Norte neighborhood, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. Mexican officials are promising to keep up the search for survivors as rescue operations stretch into a fourth day following Tuesday's major earthquake that devastated Mexico City and nearby states. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

A handler and his rescue dog look for victims at the site of a quake-collapsed seven-story building in Mexico City's Roma Norte neighborhood, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. Mexican officials are promising to keep up the search for survivors as rescue operations stretch into a fourth day following Tuesday's major earthquake that devastated Mexico City and nearby states. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Survivors are still being pulled from rubble in Mexico City as rescue operations stretch into a fourth day today, spurring hope among desperate relatives gathered at the sites of buildings collapsed by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake.

Mexico’s federal police said several people were lifted out of the debris of two buildings Thursday. Rescuers removed or broke through slabs until they found cracks that allowed workers to wiggle through to reach the victims, then lift them to safety. The city government said 60 people in all had been rescued since the quake hit at midday Tuesday.

Still, with the hours passing, fewer of the living were being found, and the official death toll rose to 286, with more than half, 148, in the capital. National Civil Defense chief Luis Felipe Puente tweeted early today that there were also 73 deaths in the state of Morelos, 45 in Puebla, 13 in Mexico, six in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.

The time was nearing when rescuers would be replaced by bulldozers to clear rubble, but officials went to great pains to say it was still a rescue operation.

Puente acknowledged that backhoes and bulldozers were starting to clear away some wrecked buildings where no one had been detected or where teetering piles of rubble threatened to collapse on neighboring structures.

“It is false that we are demolishing structures where there could be survivors,” Puente said. “The rescue operations will continue, and they won’t stop.”

Those who witnessed the buildings collapse said the tragedy could have been much worse. Some buildings didn’t fall immediately, giving people time to escape, and some shattered but left airspaces where occupants survived.

One of the most dearly held hopes, however — the belief that a small girl trapped in a collapsed school had been contacted by rescuers — has been given up.

Since early Wednesday, the nation’s attention had been glued to the search for her in the rubble of the school in southern Mexico City. Rescuers told reporters a girl, identified only as Frida Sofia, had signaled she was alive deep in the rubble by wiggling her fingers. Rescuers said they even spoke with her.

The child became a symbol of hope, but no family members came forward to identify the girl, and officials said no girl by that name was registered at the school.

On Thursday afternoon, navy Assistant Secretary Enrique Sarmiento announced that while there were blood traces and other signs suggesting someone could be alive beneath the school, all its children had been accounted for.

“We have done an accounting with school officials and we are certain that all the children either died, unfortunately, are in hospitals or are safe at their homes,” Sarmiento said.

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