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HOPES OF FINDING SURVIVORS DIM

With hopes dimming, rescuers armed with tiny cameras and listening devices searched for survivors Thursday in the bloody rubble of a bombed federal building. The FBI and police mounted a vast manhunt for the bombers.

A full day after a car bomb caused horrific destruction to the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, the confirmed death toll stood at 36, 12 of whom were children, Fire Chief Gary Marrs said late Thursday morning.There seemed no doubt that the death toll would rise, although no one could say by how much.

Marrs said he didn't know how many people remained unaccounted for and that it might take as long as six days to find all the bodies in the building. He said more than 700 people have called special telephone numbers to notify authorities that they were safe.

No one knows precisely how many people were in the building at the time of the blast. Mayor Ron Norick has noted that it had a capacity of 900.

Dr. David Tuggle, a pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital of Oklahoma, said Thursday morning that he believed there was only a remote chance anyone else would be found alive in the building.

"At this point they're not hearing anything," Norick said of the searchers. However, he added, "They're not giving up."

Hundreds of rescue workers were operating at an excruciatingly slow pace, picking through the rubble brick by brick in hopes of finding survivors without dislodging material that could further injure people inside or destroy evidence that could lead to the killers.

At the same time, the federal government deployed 200 FBI agents and more than 100 other investigators to lead the search for the suspected terrorists. State and local law enforcement officials were working on the case as well.

At the White House, press secretary Mike McCurry said the search for evidence in the case extends overseas.

The El Paso Times reported that Texas authorities had been searching for "two men of Middle Eastern appearance," possibly wearing bloodied clothing, driving a Cavalier or Blazer toward the Mexico border.

Early Thursday, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said it found a Chevrolet Cavalier and that "follow-up interviews" were being conducted.

Police Sgt. Kim Hughes said Thursday that authorities believe the 1,000- to 1,200-pound bomb was carried in a National Car Rental minivan with Texas license plates. Kennedy said authorities have no evidence that there was more than one bomb.

In the streets surrounding the building, police marked several tiny metal fragments by spray-painting yellow circles around them. Rescue workers were told not to venture inside them.

A police source, insisting on anonymity, said FBI agents had found an axle of the van believed to have carried the bomb about two blocks from the scene.

White House chief of staff Leon Panetta said Thursday that it was too early to point the finger at specific suspects.

"Obviously, there are some characteristics here that are being looked at, but at this point, frankly, we really don't have any definitive infomation as to who the suspects would be," Panetta said on NBC's "Today" show.

The bomb exploded at 9:05 a.m. Wednesday, tearing away the entire front of the federal building, leaving an 8-foot-deep crater in the ground in front of it and seriously damaging surrounding buildings. The blast could be felt miles away; glass littered the streets for blocks around the federal building, and overturned and scorched automobiles were strewn about.

A total of 432 people were treated for injuries, and 72 of them were serious enough to require hospitalization.

A 56-member urban search and rescue unit from Phoenix worked with fiber-optic cameras and acoustic listening devices in hopes of detecting someone breathing in the rubble. Workers also brought in a large steel I-beam to shore up the middle of the building.

The search lasted through the night, aided by backhoes, cranes and four giant spotlights that illuminated the cables and other debris, dangling from the pancaked floors of the building like tangled streamers.

"The hope tonight is that we'll find some more survivors," Gov. Frank Keating said at the scene late Wednesday. "The hope tomorrow is we'll find some more survivors. After that, we hope to find out who's responsible."

Tuggle, the pediatric surgeon, noted that hypothermia was a danger. The overnight low temperature in Oklahoma City was 43.

The government had received calls from several people saying they were from different Muslim groups, asserting they were responsible for the bombing, the deadliest on U.S. soil since 1927.

Bob Ricks, head of the FBI in Oklahoma City, said authorities had received hundreds of leads but that the FBI was not ready to blame any one group.

President Clinton called the bombers "evil cowards," and Attorney General Janet Reno said the government would seek the death penalty against them. Clinton ordered flags at federal buildings lowered to half-staff.

Yellow police tape cordoned off an area about four blocks wide and 10 blocks long around the blast site in downtown Oklahoma City. A half dozen downtown exit ramps remained closed on the nearby freeways to keep onlookers away.

A huge crane carrying rescue workers in a cage moved slowly up and down the front of the nine-story building looking for promising spots to search for survivors. Dogs trained to sniff out victims of disaster were on the scene.

"There's a lot of bodies in the building," said Hansen. "Our firefighters are having to crawl over corpses in areas to get to people that are still alive."

Three people were pulled from the rubble Wednesday night, but two died a short time later, Hansen said. He said a 15-year-old girl was taken from the building in critical condition. He also said a woman trapped in the basement said there were two others with her. She didn't know if they were dead or alive.

The building, which opened in 1977, has offices of such federal agencies as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Social Security, Veterans Affairs, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Housing and Urban Development, and a federal employee credit union and military recruiting offices.

The explosion heightened U.S. fears of terrorism. Federal buildings in a dozen cities were evacuated because of bomb threats, and the government ordered tightened security at federal buildings throughout the country.