Oklahoma blast toll ends at 167

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The Independent Online


in Washington

Exhausted rescuers yesterday completed their search of the wrecked federal building in Oklahoma City, leaving the final death toll of the worst terrorist outrage ever committed on US soil at 167, including two adults whose bodies will never be retrieved from the rubble.

The grisly task was called off shortly before midnight on Thursday, after workers had sifted through the wreckage of the social security office on the ground floor, where most of the remaining corpses were found. But the corpses of three infants were also among the last bodies to be removed, from the daycare centre just above it. "Our biggest relief was when we found the last baby," said a worker. "We wanted to find those three more than anything."

By the end the work in the Alfred P Murrah federal building had become all but impossible, not only because the human remains were mangled beyond recognition but because the structure itself, weakened by the blast of the 4,000lb bomb on 19 April, was on the point of collapse. The government must now decide whether to rebuild it or - as most local inhabitants want - to raze the building and turn the site into a memorial for those who perished.

After 16 days, the biggest manhunt here in decades seemed stalled yesterday, despite 14,800 possible leads phoned in by the public and a $2m (£1.24m) reward for the capture and conviction of those responsible.

The mysterious "John Doe Number Two" is still at large, and the FBI is uncertain how far the conspiracy extends beyond Timothy McVeigh, the 27- year-old former serviceman and prime suspect, now held under maximum security at El Reno prison in Oklahoma. Two other men, the brothers Terry and James Nichols, are also in detention as "material witnesses" to the blast.