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Amsterdam grieves for crash victims

Thousands filed silently past the site of the Netherlands' worst air disaster Sunday as Amsterdam mourned the 75 people killed when an El Al jet smashed into an apartment block in the Bijlmermeer suburb a week ago.

Wails of grief were heard as a bugler sounded "The Last Post" in heavy rain, and Amsterdam Mayor Ed van Thijn laid a wreath 50 yards from the point where the Israeli jet left a huge hole in two adjoining 10-story apartment blocks.

Some of the bereaved among the estimated 10,000 present fainted and had to be helped to their feet, but others were too stunned to show any outward sign of their emotions.

"I lost two sisters and two children. They found one of my sisters and jewelry belonging to the other. They didn't find the children's bodies," said a 20-year-old Surinamese woman as she gazed blankly at the proceedings.

Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers expressed the anger and sorrow of the survivors at a mass memorial service in the city's main exhibition center.

"My God, how hard it is _ that people we loved and cherished are now dead, but we cannot see or touch them, we cannot even bury them," he said.

A multiethnic crowd of 9,000 people packed the center's main hall while several thousand more followed the service on huge video screens in other halls.

Most of the crash victims in the largely immigrant neighborhood were from the former Dutch colony of Surinam, the Netherlands Antilles and Ghana.

Amsterdam Mayor Ed van Thijn led the silent procession to the crash site where the remains of 51 bodies were recovered.

The other victims may have been completely consumed in the fireball and the exact death toll will never be known.

First estimates put the number of victims as high as 250, but many of those presumed dead have since turned up alive.

Investigators are still trying to find out why the fuel-laden Boeing 747 jet crashed just minutes after taking off from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. Speculation centers on a mechanical or a construction fault. Sabotage has not been ruled out but is considered unlikely.

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