TAINAN (Taiwan) • Rescuers have deployed heavy machinery in a renewed effort to locate more than 100 people trapped in the rubble of a Taiwan apartment complex felled by an earthquake as the 72-hour "golden window" for finding survivors passed.
Tainan Mayor William Lai ordered rescuers to start using diggers and extractors to remove giant concrete slabs to better detect signs of life which have been found in three different areas.
The use of heavy machinery had been repeatedly delayed after rescuers detected signs of life in upper parts of the toppled structure.
Tainan Deputy Mayor Tseng Shu-cheng said that 103 people were still missing in the rubble.
And time is running out: By 4am yesterday, people had been trapped for 72 hours, a milestone after which rescue is rare.
TIME RUNNING OUT
It's approaching the 73rd hour and relatives are getting more anxious as time passes by and expect more. They hope the rescue team can make further moves. ''
TAINAN MAYOR WILLIAM LAI , during a briefing on rescue operations yesterday during which distraught relatives complained about poor communication of information and the lack of results
"It's approaching the 73rd hour and relatives are getting more anxious as time passes by and expect more. They hope the rescue team can make further moves," Mr Lai said at the scene early yesterday.
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said on Monday there was still hope for survivors, even beyond the 72-hour window.
"We will carry on until the last second. The golden 72 hours of rescue is the standard, but there are many exceptions," he said, after visiting two survivors in hospital.
The 16-storey Wei-guan Golden Dragon building in Tainan crumbled completely when the 6.4-magnitude quake struck before dawn last Saturday.
Yesterday, a tearful woman broke through rescuers' lines and threw herself on the ground as the mayor passed by, crying out that three members of her family were still trapped in the rubble.
Angry, distraught relatives waiting for news of their loved ones repeatedly interrupted the mayor as he gave a briefing on the progress of the rescue operation.
"Some of my family are in hospital and the bodies of others are in a funeral home. I am exhausted and I have to be here to wait for news of those still missing," one shouted.
Another complained about the lack of information. "You keep asking us to wait and we have to get the latest information from the media. It's so confusing," he said.
One woman said she was losing hope after three days of waiting for news of her loved ones.
"My brother and sister-in-law are trapped in Building A at the bottom of the wreckage. I feel like they've given up on them," said Ms Cheng Ya-ling, referring to the rescue effort.
"I've been waiting since Saturday in freezing weather at night and I have blankets, how are they going to survive buried down there?" she said. "I'm losing hope and losing faith in the rescue operation."
Yesterday, the island was jolted by another 4.9-magnitude quake off the eastern city of Hualien, but no damage or casualties were reported.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS