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HOPES OF FINDING SURVIVORS FADE

Hopes dimmed Thursday for the fate of people trapped inside the bloody rubble of a bombed federal office building, but rescuers continued to search doggedly for any signs of life. The FBI and police mounted a vast manhunt for the bombers.

Three men of Middle Eastern extraction were arrested on immigration charges Wednesday night and were being questioned Thursday in connection with the bombing, CNN reported. One man was arrested in Oklahoma and two in Dallas, CNN said, without citing sources.A fourth man, described as a witness, was being returned from Britain, where he had flown Wednesday.

CNN said the three men had stopped to ask an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper for directions Wednesday, and the trooper was suspicious enough to write down their car's license plate number. The number was registered to a rental car - a car other than what the men were driving, the network said.

In New York, a law enforcement source told The Associated Press that one of the three, Asad R. Siddiqy of New York City, was "a suspect in the bombing." CNN said Siddiqy was arrested in Dallas along with Mohammed Chafi; and a brother of Siddiqy was arrested in Oklahoma.

A full day after a car bomb caused horrific destruction to the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, the confirmed death toll stood at 36, including 12 children, Fire Chief Gary Marrs said Thursday. More than 400 people were injured.

Britain's Home Office announced that aman who landed at Heathrow Airport in London Thursday morning was being returned to the United States in connection with the case. A U.S. Justice Department official said the man was believed to be a witness.

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 six days to find all the bodies. He said more than 700 people have called special telephone numbers to notify authorities that they were safe.

Marrs' assistant, Jon Hansen, said structural engineers have identified sections of the building that would be most likely to shelter survivors, and rescuers have focused their search on those areas.

No one had emerged alive from the federal building since 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, and Mayor Ron Norick said at midmorning that rescuers had stopped hearing any sounds of life.

No one knows precisely how many people were in the building at the time of the blast. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., estimated that there were about 810 people - 560 employees and 250 non-employees.

Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City was among several public institutions nationwide to be evacuated Thursday after bomb threats, presumed to be the work of "copycats." More than 1,000 people were ordered to leave the hospital at about 9:15 a.m. No bomb was found.

All underground rail stations in Boston were shut Thursday after a bomb threat.

In Oklahoma City, 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.

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.

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 were 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.

The bomb exploded at 9:05 a.m. Wednesday, tearing away the entire front of the federal building, leaving a huge 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.

Gov. Frank Keating recalled stopping a firefighter Wednesday to thank him.

The firefighter turned to head back into the building, Keating said, and replied, "You find out whoever did this. All I've found in here are a baby's finger and an American flag."

Three people were pulled from the rubble Wednesday, but two died a short time later, Hansen said. He said a 15-year-old girl was taken from the building in critical condition.

One 20-year-old woman found alive in the wreckage had to have her leg amputated in order to be rescued.

"She was lying underneath a beam. The attempt to remove the concrete beams would have caused the rest of the building to collapse," said Dr. Andy Sullivan, an orthopedic surgeon.

The woman, Dana Bradley, was listed in critical condition this afternoon at Children's Hospital.