Russians quit search for quake survivors

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The Independent Online
A week after the Sakhalin earthquake, the search for survivors has been abandoned and the tasks of identifying and burying the dead have begun.

By 8am yesterday - seven days and seven hours after the 17 apartment blocks in the town of Neftegorsk were razed by the force-7.5 tremor - 406 people, including 40 children, had been rescued from the rubble.

Until the end of last week emergency workers were still removing the concrete debris piece by piece. Now heavy bulldozers and cranes are at work, signalling that all hope of finding further survivors has been lost.

Of the 1,063 confirmed dead, 617 have not been identified. Medical experts have been flown in to record physical information, which will be stored on computer along with photographs of each body for future identification.

The Russian government has ordered relief payments totalling more than 25bn roubles (about pounds 3m). Survivors of the earthquake will receive one- off payments of 800,000 roubles (about pounds 100) and 8m roubles will go to families of those killed. Residents of nearby towns which suffered lesser shocks will also receive compensation.

But there has been criticism of President Boris Yeltsin for his failure to visit the scene of the tragedy. Comparing his response to that of Bill Clinton after the California earthquake and that of the Japanese Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, after the Kobe disaster in January, Sovetski Sakhalin said:"There is no indication he ever planned to visit. It does not bother the dead, but it is a national disgrace that a Russian leader should thus insult the living."

People are also angry about a serious shortage of housing in the stricken area. The deputy governor of Sakhalin, Yuri Gomilevsky, appealed yesterday for donations to build newhomes, and for 200 wheelchairs for the many survivors who have had legs amputated.