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Australia landslide toll rises, hopes fading

Landslide

Cold weather, unstable ground hamper rescue effort

August 1, 1997
Web posted at: 10:26 a.m. EDT (1426 GMT)

THREDBO, Australia (CNN) -- Four bodies have been found in Australia's ski lodge landslide disaster and officials said on Friday there was little hope that any of the 16 people still missing under tons of rubble were alive after two nights of freezing temperatures.

A landslide on Wednesday night destroyed two ski lodges and buried 20 people at Thredbo Alpine Village, Australia's most popular ski resort located in the state of New South Wales, about 400 km (250 miles) south of Sydney.

One man's body was recovered Thursday night. Three bodies were located Friday, but could not be retrieved due to dangerously unstable concrete slabs, debris, and a boulder perched on the hill above the site.

Two American ski instructors, a New Zealander and 17 Australians were all feared dead, police said. Most were employees of the resort.

Rescuers continued the grim and dangerous task of digging by hand through rubble, rocks and mud in the small mountain village, but police say sub-zero temperatures means there is little chance anyone who survived the initial impact is still alive.

Destroyed home

"I think at this stage the chances are quite remote," Assistant Commissioner Ken Moroney told reporters, but he added that rescuers had not given up all hope.

Rescuers using optic fiber cameras and thermal imaging equipment have found no signs of life in the wreckage of the Carinya and Bimbadeen lodges.

Relatives of the missing rushed to Thredbo and were being briefed by police and offered the help of grief counselors.

Slow, cold rescue effort

Hundreds of emergency workers, wearing bright orange jumpsuits and hard-hats are involved in the operation, sifting by hand through tons of soil, rock and trees, concrete and metal left in the wake of the landslide.

The search for survivors remained painstakingly slow in the freezing conditions. Rescuers were working under floodlights in shifts of two hours, followed by four hours of rest.

Rescuers

They also reinforce the site as they work to prevent further slides, a danger that delayed any concerted rescue attempt for 10 hours after the initial landslide. By then, the cries of buried victims calling for help had ended.

Rescue efforts were "going along slowly," said New South Wales Emergency Services Superintendent Robert Girven, "so we don't create any more accidents."

"The area still remains unstable," a police spokesman said.

Messages of sympathy poured in from around the world to the small, close-knit community which has a population of up to 4,000 in the skiing season and a summer population of about 500.

Officials are not certain what caused the landslide, but they suspect a stream uphill had made the land unstable.

Others pointed to overbuilding on the steep mountain slopes, and noted that the road over the lodges had collapsed before, though no one had ever been hurt.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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