Crews and bystanders worked non-stop Wednesday trying to extricate motorists caught under tons of twisted metal and concrete that was once an elevated highway. Officials fear 200 people were killed in the collapse.
Screams and the crash of metal brought bystanders to the disaster on Interstate 880.George Donovan, a Berkeley truck driver, was on the upper deck in a tractor-trailer rig when the quake hit.
"The pavement started to move. I had waves of asphalt come up over my windshield," he said. "It was undulating all around me. It was like a Disney ride."
Police said 56 bodies had been taken to a makeshift morgue near the scene, and seven other bodies had been taken to the coroner's office.
"You could hear it crunching down - but you couldn't see anything. It was just a big white cloud," Leroy FitzGerald said after Tuesday's earthquake knocked down a mile-long section of the highway's upper level onto the bottom lanes.
"You could hear people screaming for help," said FitzGerald, who works at a nearby auto parts shop.
Late Tuesday, high on the upper deck of the Nimitz freeway, rescuers walked, their flashlights shining in the darkness as they worked amid the wreckage that became a vast grave for motorists caught in the collapse.
When the 18-block stretch of highway caved in, workers from businesses in the heavy industrial area ran to help, many bringing tall ladders and forklifts.
A passer-by, Patrick MacIntyre, said rescuers were able to pull one man alive from a car that was crushed to a height of 18 inches.
In another rescue, emergency workers pulled a girl from the wreckage of an automobile. The fate of her parents was not known. Late Tuesday, rescuers worked to save the girl's brother.
A three-member surgical team was forced to amputate the right leg of the 7-year-old boy who was trapped in a car for seven hours.
He was finally removed from the wreckage at 12:15 a.m. carried down a 20-foot ladder and taken to an ambulance that took him to a hospital.
Darius Brewer, a 26-year-old cook, joined an impromptu rescue party. The group crawled as far as possible under the crushed roadway to help injured motorists. They used crowbars to pry open one auto and tied ropes around an elderly man to lower him 20 feet to safety.
"Then we went on top of the second deck and just mostly got everybody down we could. People were yelling and screaming," he said. "Some people were yelling `I'm hurt! I'm hurt!' "
Parts of the buckled structure resembled a roller coaster, with huge slabs of concrete skewed at all angles.
Chunks of pulverized concrete littered the streets for blocks, dusting warehouses and leaving a thick smell in the air.
The thud of helicopter blades mingled with the whine of sirens from other parts of the earthquake-damaged city.
Police and emergency vehicles cordoned off the area for at least a dozen blocks around the highway.
"Two women died in my arms," said an exhausted Robert Majors, who lives a block away from the freeway. "There was a man who died with all of us watching. There was nothing we could do. He was stuck under the concrete. There was a fire. There was nothing we could do."