There is frantic digging. But once again, it's too late

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The Independent US

The only sound is the constant drone of the excavators as they sift through the earth patiently, methodically, searching for any signs of life.

The only sound is the constant drone of the excavators as they sift through the earth patiently, methodically, searching for any signs of life.

Families and friends stand by quietly, or wait in a shelter nearby. Suddenly there are shouts. People gather round watching, some openly praying. Then two camilleros (stretcher-bearers) gently lift a small frame out of the rubble. It is a child's body, but it is too late.

They start to carry the stretcher towards the morgue. Then another shout, another person found. The stretcher is left. The frantic race begins again. No one wants to leave while there is still some hope there are survivors.

Raquel Barrera has been keeping a vigil since Saturday. That was the day she discovered she was pregnant. Hours later her husband and son were buried in the earthquake.

Raquel was at work when the tremor struck off the coast of El Salvador. She rushed home to find Las Colinas, the suburb where the family lived, had been engulfed by a torrent of mud and rocks that the quake sent thundering down off the Balsamo mountain range.

She watches rescue workers dig up the piles of earth that now cover all that remains of her home. Her husband, Bayaroo, taught at a local school. His textbooks, notes and letters are scattered on the ground. Lifting some half-buried material she whispers: "That is his favourite football shirt." Then clutching her stomach, she breaks down as she points towards some mangled metal. It is the bicycle of her 12-year-old son Cristian. She tries to remain calm, hopeful the news would be good. "I have asked God to help to find them today."

Local reporter Elizabeth Grande works for the television station El Noticiero. As she broadcasts, the station is rocked by aftershocks. "It is a national tragedy. People feel it is the end of the world." Television stations have been inundated by calls from anxious friends and relatives desperate to trace loved ones. "Communications are very difficult here and people are desperate to know what is happening. They call the stations and give numbers for survivors to ring."

Rescue workers know they are battling against time - digging with shovels alongside local people who claw the earth with their bare hands.

Jose Alas rushed to the scene when he heard Las Colinas had been hit. He lives a mile away and is searching for his friend, feared buried with his two children. "This used to be a street," he says, pointing to rubble. He vows he will not leave until his friends are found, dead or alive. The strain from hours of digging, much in blistering heat, shows on his face

Does he think he will find survivors? He turns away. "I can't tell you that," he says quietly.

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