People react with disbelief, sorrow Relief workers awed by damage TERROR STRIKES THE HEARTLAND

April 20, 1995|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,Sun Staff Correspondent

OKLAHOMA CITY -- There is nothing but sorrow on Northwest Fifth Street.

"I think we have a live one," a rescue worker yelled in the night, her voice competing with the drone of generators supplying power to search lights.

But minutes later the worst is confirmed. Another body is bundled in green burlap, placed on a gurney and wheeled through a crowd of beleaguered rescue workers to an ambulance.

"Out of the way," a medic commands.

Terror has come to middle America.

Surrounded by wheat and oil fields and cattle farms, Oklahoma City is home to the college football Sooners, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and an airport named after humorist Will Rogers.

Now the state capital is the site of the deadliest car bombing on U.S. soil.

"I've never seen anything as devastating as this," said James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as he stood in awe in front of the rubble.

Mr. Witt and a team of FEMA supervisors surveyed the damage shortly before midnight and planned to report back to President Clinton this morning.

What they saw was startling. The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building looked like it had suffered a sustained mortar attack. The north side of the building had been sheared away, exposing nine floors of offices and hallways that were once filled with people.

Slabs of concrete hang over the edges of the floors, clinging to twisted bars of steel.

Below, rescue workers and trained search-and-rescue dogs searched through the small mounds of concrete and steel, filing cabinets and furniture, looking for signs of life and clues to the brazen bombing. Hundreds of other searchers waited for their turn to enter.

Those who had served in war said they had seen nothing like it. Across the street was a scene from a nuclear holocaust science fiction film.

Rows of cars in a parking lot were charred, the hoods peeled back and pressed over rooftops from the force of the blast.

"I thought it was a plane blowing up or a sonic boom," Donna Maag, 38, said of the explosion from the half-ton car bomb.

She was at home, in Edmond, 15 miles north, when the bomb was detonated.

Last night, FEMA planned to start setting up command posts for investigators and rescue workers. Search-and-rescue teams, from fire departments in Sacramento, Calif., and Phoeniz were on their way.

Slow were the tools of the disaster trade -- push brooms for sweeping the streets, folding tables for laying out bits of evidence and body bags.

"I can't believe there are still people in there," said FEMA spokesman Morrie Goodman, standing at the epicenter of blast. "It's terrible. Terrible."

City and state police, National Guardsmen and federal agents cordoned off a two-block radius around the building. City emergency was imposed, and all city exits from interstate highways were barricaded last night.

At the city's airport, planes brought in anxious residents, who had returned immediately when they heard of the bombing.

"I can't believe this happened in Oklahoma City," said Cathy Pollard, 34, of Chattanooga, Tenn. "California, New York, maybe. But this is small town America."

Ms. Pollard said her sister, Rhonda, had called her shortly after the blast to tell her that her brother-in-law, Jack, was in the federal building.

Jack Jocsing is a Marine recruiter based in Moore, Okla., a suburb of Oklahoma City.

Before taking his desk assignment, he was an anti-terrorist specialist who had worked in Libya and Saudi Arabia.

He was one of the lucky ones, one of the survivors. Ms. Pollard, who flew in last night with her mother, said her brother-in-law had surgery but she did not know his condition yet.

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