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Search for ‘miracles’ in rubble goes on

26 confirmed dead as attempt to find survivors in collapse continues

Rescuers pull out the tenth survivor, a female, from the debris at around 12:00 am Thursday, about 132 hours after the collapse occurred. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

While emergency workers called the successful rescue of a woman who had been trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building in Hunan province for about 132 hours a miracle, they said other courageous survivors had also touched them.

The building collapse happened in Wangcheng district in the provincial capital of Changsha on April 29. A total of 23 people are believed to still be trapped in the building and contact with 39 others near the site remains unestablished, according to a preliminary investigation.

The woman pulled out from the rubble just after midnight on Thursday is the 10th trapped person to be rescued. Meanwhile, 26 people are confirmed dead, the city said at a news conference on Thursday night.

"I always had faith that you would get me out," the woman said to the rescuers after they reached her, according to video footage from China Central Television.

To miss no signal sent out by survivors during the search and rescue operations, rescuers often ask people on site to stay quiet and turn off the engines of vehicles and machinery. At around 8 pm on Wednesday, another round of silent searching was conducted. After receiving alerts from a search dog, the rescuers located the woman at around 8:40 pm, Zheng Jianxin, mayor of Changsha, said in a news conference on Thursday morning.

"The woman is conscious and even reminded rescuers to avoid actions that might hurt her. It's a miracle," a rescuer told CCTV. "We're looking forward to the next miracle as search and rescue mission continues."

Cai Junqiu, a member of Changsha Fire Rescue Brigade, said at the news conference that the difficulty and danger of the search and rescue mission are beyond the imagination of many people.

"The structure of the collapsed building has become extremely unstable. Further collapse can happen anytime, posing threats to survivors and rescuers. Also, the operating spaces for rescuers are very narrow so it's almost impossible to use heavy machinery. Instead, we can only send in rescuers with smaller bodies in turns to get into the spaces," said Cai, who was involved in pulling four survivors out.

Cai became emotional while recalling the process of rescuing two survivors. "I'm greatly touched by their optimism and strong will," he said.

It took the rescuers more than 28 hours to pull out the sixth survivor, surnamed Jiang, after she was found.

At around 3 am on Sunday, Cai believed he was getting close to Jiang because she said she could see the lights.

Four hours later, after getting close on a stainless-steel construction layer, Cai saw there was another layer underneath trapping Jiang inside. "At that time, I could see her hands. It felt like I could reach her immediately, but that wasn't the case," he said.

The rescuers then decided to change the rescue plan. Instead of getting to her via breaking the layer of construction on top of her, they would create an entrance under the layer for her safety, Cai said.

"After seeing how hard we've worked to get her out, Jiang sang the song Tomorrow Will Be Better to encourage us and herself," Cai said. "After finally pulling her out of the rubble, I feel completely exhausted. But when I heard people on site applauding loudly, I couldn't help but burst into tears."

Cai said the eighth survivor, surnamed Liu, was the bravest girl he's ever met. Liu had been trapped for more than 79 hours before being rescued.

Liu's legs were trapped under the rubble, so she was in great pain during the rescue process, Cai said. "But she chose to comfort me by telling me to ignore her screams from the pain and just concentrate on my job. I promised to take her to visit the fire station I serve after her recovery."

According to a preliminary investigation, the edifice was built in 2012 as a six-story building, and two stories were added in 2018. Tenants made structural changes to the building, but further investigation is needed to determine the precise cause of the collapse.

Nine people have been arrested for their roles in the fatal collapse on Tuesday while two others were detained for allegedly illegally altering the structure of the building.