Grim race to reach survivors of quake

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Egion - Rescuers struggled to free two survivors - a boy and a wheelchair- bound mute woman - buried alive for more than 36 hours in the ruins of an apartment block razed by Thursday's earthquake.

The death-toll from the quake, centred on this western Greek coastal town, rose to 20 after workers dug out the bodies of three more French tourists at the Eliki Hotel. The deaths caused by the quake, 10 French tourists, nine Greeks and an Italian woman, were in the hotel or the apartment block.

More than 60 people were injured, many seriously, when the tremor shook the region 90 miles west of Athens on the Gulf of Corinth. Swiss and Greek rescue teams fought heat, exhaustion and time to free the two Greek survivors but admitted it was slow going. Their discovery yesterday raised hopes that up to 10 people missing, including two French tourists, buried in the rubble might be alive.

"We're advancing very slowly with hammers and chisels. No machinery,'' said Thierry Angeretas, one of the Swiss. ``We're afraid the vibrations would bring down the whole area."

Particular concern was expressed for Andreas Bogdanos, who is 8. "The problem is that we can talk to him but we don't know his exact location," said a Swiss-team spokesman.

"Sometimes he talks logically but sometimes he hallucinates. That means he's suffering from dehydration. We must get him out as soon as possible.''

In another part of the building, workers were trying to reach Maria Elvira Frangonikolopoulou, a mentally retarded woman confined to a wheelchair. "Dogs detected a second person alive," Mr Angeretas said yesterday, just after Mrs Frangonikolopoulou was located but before rescuers identified her.

"We hit a wall and he hit back. We hit three times and he hit back three times. He, or maybe she, is moaning but can't talk. We're trying to find ways to rescue him." The rescuers later established that the person they had found was a woman who did not have the power of speech.