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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 May, 2003, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
'No hope of finding Sabrina alive'
Sisters comfort each other near their ruined home in Thenia
The search goes on - but thousands are feared buried
As emergency teams in Algeria called off their searches, a UK rescue worker has told how his team carried on trying to find an 11-year-old girl.

Mike Penrose told the BBC they continued for several more hours - watched by hundreds of distressed local people - in the hope of finding Sabrina under the rubble of a six-storey building in Boudoua.

Mr Penrose, working with the UK Government's Department For International Development, said the 16-hour search was finally called off when it was decided the chance of finding her was "minimal".

He said: "We started by tunnelling into a building where we had had positive indications that someone might be alive.

"We managed to enter the building from four different directions with people tunnelling right the way through the building in very cramped spaces.

Voices distorted

"We cleared out all the liveable spaces and the only spaces that remained were less than 2cm high and no-one could have survived in them.

"Eventually we had to give up as we felt our people were in danger and there was no realistic chance of life."

After four to five days especially in temperatures as high as this it is it very unlikely someone could have survived much more than that time
Mike Penrose

Mr Penrose said local people who had thought they had heard the girl calling out could have been mistaken.

"Quite often when groups get excited you get people calling into the building from different directions and one group could possibly have heard the other group calling, thinking it was a survivor.

"Voices can get distorted. There are also many rats and cats that crawl around in buildings and there are all sorts of taps and sounds that people sometimes mistake for signs of life.

Rescue dogs

"There were hundreds of local people with us and although they mean the best it can sometimes do more harm than good."

The UK rescue team had two types of dog working with them - known as "live" dogs and "cadaver" dogs.

"In the end we got no signs from the live dogs and I believe we got some signs from the cadaver dogs.

"Usually after four to five days especially in temperatures as high as this it is it very unlikely someone could have survived much more than that time.

"Dehydration and rapid changes of temperature weaken an already-traumatised body."

Mr Penrose said they would never say there was no chance of finding someone else alive at this stage.

"But the chances are now so minimal we feel putting our own people into buildings would be more risky. There have been some more tremors.

"We had to evacuate the building several times during the search because of small aftershocks and movement in the building."

Searchers from the Rapid UK team, who have been in Algeria helping in the aftermath of the earthquake, are due back in Britain on Monday.

The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"Sabrina's father is desperate"

Earthquake survivors on Focus on Africa
"I have lost five members of my family"

In pictures: Algeria earthquake
22 May 03  |  Photo Gallery
Eyewitness: The earth shook
23 May 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Algeria
06 May 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Algeria
03 Mar 03  |  Country profiles


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