Authorities have all but abandoned hope of finding more survivors from an earthquake in Soviet Georgia that killed at least 80 people, half of them inhabitants of a town buried by a landslide.
Officials said they expected the death toll to rise Wednesday as more complete reports are gathered from remote villages cut off by the quake."We know there are still people in the ruins, but there's no way they're alive," said Besik Kukateladze, an official in this village where one-third of the homes were flattened and many seriously damaged.
The Monday quake, which registered 7.1 on the Richter scale, injured 500 people and left about 80,000 homeless in a 50-square-mile area in the north-central part of this southern republic.
The earthquake's epicenter was near 11,000-foot Mount Samertskhie, about 90 miles northwest of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
The village of Khakhieti was destroyed, buried beneath tons of rock from the side of a mountain, its 40 or so inhabitants buried alive.
"It was awful," said Georgian Prime Minister Tengiz Sigua, who viewed the village from a helicopter on Tuesday. "Simply put, it was a nightmare."
Sigua said he expected the death toll to rise when authorities hear from villages whose communications links were cut by the quake.
Sachkhere had its share of death and destruction. The independent Iberian news agency said 25 people were killed in and around Sachkhere.
Power in the town was out. A two-story railroad station was wrecked, with a collapsed roof. Wind kicked up dust that swirled through a traffic circle in the middle of town that was serving as a makeshift rescue center.
About 60 families were living in tents on an old soccer field.
"I think a lot about why it happened, but I have not come up with any answers," said Nana Shugakidze, who was standing at a campfire amid the tents.
She said she was working in a medical clinic when the quake struck and was briefly trapped in the rubble, managing to free herself.
Shugakidze said she ran to the school her two sons attended and found them safe, already standing outside.
A group of 43 rescuers from Moscow arrived Tuesday night in Sachkhere, but city official Alexander Cherbakov said, "They aren't needed." Only one person was pulled alive from a wrecked building the day before.