Search for Mexico survivors continues as story of missing girl proves false

Desperate relatives were given hope Friday as tireless rescuers digging through the wreckage of Mexico's deadly earthquake continued to pull survivors from the rubble, raising the number to at least 60 people who've been saved since the quake hit midday Tuesday.

Federal police said several people were lifted out of two buildings that collapsed after the magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck. Rescuers removed or broke through slabs until the cracks allowed workers to wiggle in to reach the victims and lift them to safety.

However, as the hours pass, fewer of the living were being found. The official death toll rose to 273.


Luis Felipe Puente, the federal civil defense director, told reporters that backhoes and bulldozers were starting to clear away from of the 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 spaces where occupants survived.

In other cases, the salvation seemed almost miraculous.

Security guard Felix Giral Barron said after the quake started, he had time to run and tell people to evacuate his building. Then an entire apartment building across the street crumbled and a big tank of heating gas on it slid off, but didn't explode.

What was not miraculous was the disappearance of one of the most dearly held hopes, the belief that a small girl trapped in a collapsed school had been contacted by rescuers.

Since early Wednesday, the nation's attention had been glued to the search for her in the rubble of a 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.


He said 11 children had been rescued and 19 had died, along with six adults, including a school employee whose body was recovered just before dawn Thursday.

"We want to emphasize that we have no knowledge about the report that emerged with the name of a girl," Sarmiento added. "We do not believe — we are sure — it was not a reality."

In fact, he said, the only trace rescuers had were images from a camera lowered into the rubble that showed blood tracks where an injured person apparently dragged himself or herself.

Sarmiento said the only person still listed as missing was a school employee. Several dead people had been removed from the rubble, and it could have been their fingers rescuers thought they saw move.

Sarmiento later apologized for being so categorical, saying if anyone was still trapped it could be a child or an adult.

"The information existing at this moment doesn't allow us to say if it is an adult or a child," Sarmiento said. "As long as there is the slightest possibility of someone alive, we will continue search with the same energy."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.