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I-880 SEARCH PAYS OFF - LONGSHOREMAN FOUND ALIVE

SHARE I-880 SEARCH PAYS OFF - LONGSHOREMAN FOUND ALIVE

Dogged rescuers punching through concrete pulled a burly longshoreman alive Saturday from the rubble of an Oakland freeway that was destroyed by an earthquake four days earlier.

Onlookers burst into cheers as Buck Helm, 57, was removed from his subcompact car and again when he waved weakly from a stretcher."When he came out, it was just an incredible and a wonderful sight to see after he had been there some 89 hours," Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson said. "That gives hope to everyone in terms of what the potential is. Who knows what is under there?"

Helm had asked paramedics crawling into a 3 1/2-foot-high cavern, "When am I going to get out of here?" He asked doctors for a drink of milk when he arrived at Highland General Hospital.

He probably could have survived two more days, doctors said.

Workers have toiled for days uncovering bodies from the mayhem of the 1 1/4-mile-long stretch of double-decked Interstate 880, and by Saturday there had been little hope of finding anyone alive. Helm was the first person rescued since Tuesday night.

Damage estimates from Tuesday's quake stood at some $5.5 billion, and the confirmed death toll rose Saturday to 55 - 34 of them pulled from the remains of I-880. Dozens were still listed as missing in Oakland, police said.

A strong aftershock rattled the area Saturday afternoon. The U.S. Geological Survey said the 3:15 p.m. shock measured 4.6 on the Richter scale and was centered eight miles northeast of Santa Cruz, very close to the site of Tuesday's earthquake. The University of California at Berkeley Seismographic Stations measured it at 4.8. It was felt in the San Francisco area, but there were no immediate reports of damage.

In all, more than 2,000 aftershocks have been registered since the initial quake.

Helm, a 240-pound longshoreman's clerk who works in Oakland, was pulled from a Chevrolet Sprint automobile and was rushed to Highland, five miles from the scene, said Tom Silvey, a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services in Sacramento.

Helm had a steady pulse and was in critical-guarded condition on a respirator, suffering from dehydration, a "fairly significant" chest wall injury, kidney failure, three broken ribs and breathing difficulties, doctors said. He had been on the missing persons list since the disaster.

"His prognosis is guarded," Dr. Randy Rasmussen said at a 6:30 p.m. news conference at the hospital. "It's too early in his course to say if he's going to make it or not, but certainly we're hopeful."

A hospital surgeon, Will Fry, said Helm probably wouldn't need surgery. "It's somewhat of a miracle that he was able to survive," Fry said.

"I raised my hands and screamed and thanked God he's alive," his ex-wife, Lorene Helm, told the Cable News Network from her home in Weaverville, 250 miles northeast of San Francisco.

Later, at a tearful news conference, Helm's family of four children thanked rescue workers.

"We've had people in Trinity County pulling for us, people in Oakland pulling for us, and probably people all over the world pulling for us," Lorene Helm said.

Family and friends said Helm had a better chance than most of surviving.

"We figured that if anybody could make it, Buck Helm could. He's tough. He's a fighter," said Dave Comport, a co-worker on the docks.

Rescuers said Helm was packed inside the driver's seat, not so much pinned as trapped. He was drifting in and out of consciousness, they said.

Paramedic Diana Moore said she and others had to crawl into an area only 3 1/2 feet high. Helm's seat belt proved to be an obstacle, she said.

He was removed from a hole punched through the car with a jaws-of-life device, placed on a gurney and lifted out with a crane.

"I was overwhelmed finding him. It was a wonderful feeling," she said.

"He was very anxious to get out. He was mainly moaning," Moore said. "The only thing he said that was understandable was `When am I going to get out of here?' "

Dr. Michael Smith, director of trauma at Highland, said Helm was responding to fluids and had asked for a drink of milk.

Helm's left leg was partially crushed, hospital medical director Floyd Huen said. Doctors were also checking for a skull fracture, Smith said.

"He was not really compressed or in too bad a condition," he said.

Helm and a co-worker had left the Oakland terminal at 5 p.m. Tuesday in separate cars headed north, according to Comport, a superintendent for Stevedore Services of America.

The 6.9-magnitude quake struck at 5:04 p.m.

"One of his co-workers was 10 car lengths ahead when the earthquake hit," Comport said. "He knew that Buck Helm was behind him and didn't come out. All the word on the waterfront was that Buck Helm didn't come out.

"We're all ecstatic," he said.

Work had been suspended Friday night at the freeway site because the morass of concrete and twisted steel had become too unstable, and some sections shifted as much as 3 inches, officials said.

But at 6 a.m., a transportation engineer looked through one of the new seams created by the shifting and saw something move in a heavily damaged section.

"He couldn't believe what he was seeing, so he brought some others who also detected movement," said Bob Jacobs, deputy director at the California Department of Transportation.

An all-out effort with jackhammers was begun. Two hours later, Moore was able to get within 8 feet and yell to Helm, who moved his head.

That was the first confirmation that he was alive.

The crowd of rescuers cheered when told Helm was alive.

"We saw him wave his hand, and everybody started cheering again," said Seth Isler, a Los Angeles actor volunteering with the Red Cross.

"It was an incredible sight to see."

Helm was identified by his car's license plates and a check of the list of missing people.

There were no other survivors in nearby cars, but the search was renewed after the discovery of Helm, officials said.

"There have been five sweeps of the entire structure, and we are in the process of making a sixth sweep," one rescuer said.

CalTrans spokesman Jim Drago said despite renewed enthusiasm for the rescue operation, the effort can't be sped up for fear of causing cave-ins.

"The problem is we still have to proceed cautiously and deliberately even though our people are encouraged" that others might still be alive, Drago said.

In San Francisco, firefighters removed what they first thought was the body of a baby discovered Saturday in the smoldering remains of a fire in the Marina District. The coronor's office later said tests would have to determine if the remains were human.

A search with trained dogs continued for others missing in the blaze, which killed three people following the earthquake. Bulldozers began demolishing the first half-dozen of about 60 dwellings in the Marina that were too badly damaged to be repaired.

In hard-hit Santa Cruz, where the quake and its aftershocks still have residents jittery, rain forced people inside for the first time since Tuesday.

"Many of the families who had earlier been camped out in back yards and parks because they didn't feel secure inside buildings are making a value judgment and seeking getting out of the weather," said Lee Duffuss of the local Red Cross office.

Tents have sprung up all over town, he said, and federal officials are trying to determine whether to create a long-term tent city for those driven out of their homes.

Officials said they began noticing increases in shelter populations Saturday and expected more Sunday as a second storm was expected in the Bay area.

High winds dashed engineers' hopes of quickly removing the collapsed 50-foot section of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge, the lifeline connecting Oakland and San Francisco.

Experts decided to cut the 250-ton slab of five-lane highway into two pieces with a giant saw and lower them to a barge with a crane, said Greg Bayol of the California Department of Transportation.

The decision to delay the lifting is not expected to set back the four-week target date for reopening the bridge, Bayol said.

Rain also raised the threat of additional landslides in the mountains north of Santa Cruz, near the epicenter of Tuesday's 6.9-magnitude quake. In Boulder Creek, a town of 6,800, 60 homes already have been destroyed.

County spokeswoman Dinah Phillips said not enough rain was expected to cause widespread land problems.

Relief aid continued to stream into the area. But the most urgent requirement was for money to help relocate homeless families from shelters to temporary living quarters such as hotels, a Red Cross official said.

About 5,000 people have been housed in 30 shelters in the region affected by Tuesday's quake, the Red Cross said.

Some 12,000 people - 10,000 of them in Santa Cruz County - have been displaced from their homes, officials said.

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Red Cross seeks funds

Two volunteers from the Salt Lake Chapter of the American Red Cross are now assisting in a huge mobile mass feeding in the Santa Cruz area.

The volunteers, driving the organization's disaster van, arrived in the area Thursday to assist in earthquake relief efforts.

Meanwhile, the local chapter has raised $9,350 to help victims. Officials hope to raise $50,000 from the local community.

Contributions can be sent to P.O. Box 6279, Salt Lake City, UT 84152-6279. Checks should be made payable to American Red Cross, and donors should specify that the money goes to the special earthquake disaster relief fund.