Woman rescued after 46 hours in rubble

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TO WITNESS the rescue was like being present at a birth, and just as magical. For 46 hours, life for Evi Vassilopoulou had seemed nothing more than a distant hope. Trapped under hundreds of tons of concrete, she could hardly move, barely breathe and, with torrential rain pouring into what threatened to be her tomb, faced the possibility that the whole edifice would shift and cave in on her.

Already, rescuers had pulled 10 dead from the remains of Ricomex, a detergent factory in Menidi on the north-east outskirts of Athens, the region that bore the brunt of Tuesday's earthquake. About 30 remained underground and hope was fading fast.

Overnight, teams from Greece, Turkey, France, Switz-erland and Israel saw joy turn to despair. They rescued a man and woman from a tiny pocket under the rubble. Another woman in the same hole suffocated as an ill-timed aftershock shifted a lump of concrete on to her face seconds before they would have pulled her out.

Then, a sniffer dog began barking excitedly over a huge slab and the rescuers got down to work, painstakingly drilling and hacking their way through to Evi, in her early 20s.

"We didn't know she was down there before the dog started barking," said a Greek rescuer. "We had heard nothing using the Turkish listening equipment."

And, perhaps because of the excellent rapport that has developed between the Greeks and Turks, he added jokingly: "It was a Greek dog." As Evi's freedom became imminent, the hundreds of relatives, well-wishers and media fell silent, waiting impatiently for the paramedics to deliver her from the womb of the earth.

Then, suddenly, her bruised and swollen face appeared, squinting in the sun, and unrestrained cheering and applause broke out. She screamed in pain as, in a neck brace, she was strapped to a stretcher, yet her injuries, amazingly, are only slight.

"She has hurt her eye and she has a sprained shoulder," said Dr Demetri Pyrros, head of the medical team, who also headed the Greek contingent sent to help in the Turkish earthquake last month. "All her vital signs are within normal boundaries - breathing, oxygen levels, pulse, blood pressure, all normal. We often find that after a few days; either survivors are fine, or in deep trouble."

The death toll across the region reached 83, with more than 40 still missing, but the rescue teams intend to continue searching for another two days. "We found a nine-year-old boy after four days, and we don't like to stop until at least six," said Dr Pyrros. "So there is still hope."

There have been other stories of joy and sadness. A 10-year-old boy and his father were rescued. The boy's fatherheld a beam off him for more than 24 hours. The father died later from his injuries.

The Greek Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, promised financial help for the 16,000 left homeless from the quake. Each family would initially receive 200,000 drachmas (about pounds 400), would be given one-third of the cost of rebuilding their home or business, and the government will provide interest- free loans to fund the reconstruction.

In Menidi, Red Cross tents were set up on the football ground and on parkland. Some of the homeless complained yesterday that the government had not done enough, but others said they felt happy simply to be alive.