TOPICS > Politics

Hunting for Clues

April 20, 1995 at 12:00 AM EDT


BETTY ANN BOWSER: Twenty-four hours ago this had been a scene of panic and confusion. But today there was an eerie quiet, punctuated by the sound of cranes and earth movers, shoveling debris in search of victims.

At an early morning news conference, the city’s fire chief said structural damage to the devastated building was a significant problem and with several hundred people still missing, could impact what so far has been a low body count.

GARY MARRS, Oklahoma City Fire Chief: They definitely have bodies that they know are either visible or they know where they’re at that they have not retrieved from the building, so that count will rise during the day. We’ll try to keep you updated.

As I reported yesterday, we will not report anything other than what comes out confirmed of the building to keep speculation down. They have stability problems they’re addressing in the building. They’ve already shored up one of the foundation columns. They’ve got two others that they’re addressing. They’re going to do some beam placement and some shoring on those and some shoring on the floor levels to keep the floors above them stable.

We are turning now to a very slow, tedious process, and they’ve got the most sophisticated techniques they have available right now. We have audio listening devices. We have the cameras, the small cameras, that can get in there. They’re using numerous dog teams. From time to time they’ll shut down operations to try to quiet the scene and send some of those dogs and people back through again. So we’re using every opportunity we can to find any remaining people in the building.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: City officials say they’re overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from the community. Some people stood in line for six hours to donate blood for the injured. Others literally saved a life. Rick Nelson is a surgeon from Muskogee who helped pull a 15-year-old girl to safety late last night.

RICK NELSON, Surgeon-Volunteer: It’s very difficult, even as a surgeon, to get to help. I’m sorry I get emotional. So being frustrated, I was sort of on a triage team for a little while, but realizing we weren’t triaging anything, we were just seeing dead bodies come out, so I got over and I figured the best likelihood of me being able to help find someone or help somebody would be to get into the dead body team. So I got on the dead body team, and we were there, what, excuse me, we were next in line to be bringing out some dead people, and some of the medics came rushing out and said that we got a live one.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: What goes through your mind when you’re in a situation like that, not only as a surgeon but as a volunteer?

RICK NELSON: Well, actually, while we’re in there during the extrication process there’s not a lot that goes through your mind, except, what’s the next logical approach, because in the situation we were in in my, you know, I’m really — I was not working as a surgeon last night, because where she was, I could not get to her to treat her. I couldn’t start IV’s, and it was several, it was an hour and a half before I could even get to her to get oxygen on her, because we dug through about four feet of rubble to get to her face.

So what was going through my mind is: What can we cut, what can we move without bringing this down on her or the whole building down on us or the whole ceiling down on us? The team worked amazingly well together. I sort of told a fireman, well, I can get out of your way if you need to, but otherwise I’m digging, and they said, listen, none of us have experience, you know, this is America, we don’t have terrorism.