PHILADELPHIA — Police sifting through the smoldering rubble of the headquarters of MOVE, a bizarre radical cult, found six bodies Tuesday, while Mayor W. Wilson Goode pledged to rebuild an entire neighborhood and defended police tactics that ended a shoot-out with the radicals, but set 60 homes ablaze.
Several of the bodies were found in the basement of the house the cult had occupied, which had been turned into a fortified bunker. The dead included at least two children.
As darkness fell, the search through the ashes was abandoned for the night amid official concern that the death toll could go higher.
Goode promised that by Christmas 61 families--about 300 men, women and children, who were burned out of their homes Monday evening--would be returned to rebuilt dwellings.
In a late evening news conference with Goode and other top officials, Police Commissioner Gregore J. Sambor described in detail the device dropped on the MOVE building that touched off the blaze. He said it consisted of two one-pound tubes of Du Pont Tovex, a blasting agent used in mining operations that he said is "the equivalent of dynamite and much safer to handle."
He said the city's bomb squad had conducted numerous tests of Tovex and "there was never in any of these tests any fire."
"There would never have been any fire unless it was assisted by some inflammatory (sic) material (already inside the house)," the commissioner said.
Goode said at the news conference that destruction in the neighborhood would exceed $4.2 million.
Goode said also that police are conducting surveillances of two other MOVE-occupied houses in Philadelphia and that city officials are consulting with prosecutors on what possible action could be taken against other members of the organization.
Sambor said that in his 35 years on the force he had not seen such fortifications as MOVE had constructed inside the row house. He said MOVE had even hauled "thick tree trunks," their bark still intact, into the house. Holes for shooting ports were cut in the trunks, Sambor said.
Meanwhile, city officials faced sharp questions over police tactics used to oust MOVE from the two-story brick row house in a normally tranquil middle-class neighborhood on Philadelphia's west side.
In his televised address Tuesday night, Goode defended the bombing, even though there was evidence that children were inside the house at the time.
"If I had to make this same decision again I would make the same decision," Goode said, facing clearly what is the worst crisis of his administration.
He said the first plan was to use tear gas and water cannons to take off the bunker on the roof of the house.
'Plan Was a Good One'
"We felt that by moving the bunker, we could force MOVE members from the house . . . and carry through our plan to protect life," Goode said. "The plan was a good one. It could have worked."
He said also that police had learned about six weeks ago that MOVE members might be building tunnels under other houses with the intention of using explosives to blow up the entire block "to make international headlines."
The mayor said the city was "concerned about explosives under all those homes."
"We cannot permit one terrorist group to hold a neighborhood hostage," Goode said. "We had been told they were prepared to die, to go on a suicide mission. If I had to make the decision over again, it was the right decision."
The mayor added: "I do not like the result."
Manhunt Under Way
The mayor said a massive manhunt was under way for any remaining MOVE members who may have escaped the huge blaze, touched off when a police helicopter dropped the explosive device on the fortified bunker the group erected on top of its row house.
The result was clear for all to see. The block looked like Berlin after World War II. Once-well-kept homes were shells of brick and plaster. Clothing, furniture, appliances, the everyday paraphernalia of living, were reduced to ashes by the massive blaze that seared the leaves off trees and lighted the Philadelphia skyline for hours.
Fire Comissioner William Richmond at one point turned to a young rookie fighting the blaze. He told him: "It will never get worse than this."
'A Horrible Fire'
"It was a horrible fire," Richmond said. "It was a very tough fire situation."
Richmond said he gave his men orders not to advance on the flames because he said MOVE's members were sniping at them.
"We're firefighters," Richmond told a news conference. "We're not infantrymen."
Nevertheless, he stressed, the plan to take out the bunker was strictly a police operation. Sambor, the police commissioner, said the device dropped by the helicopter had been tested and it was not expected to spark an inferno. Richmond said, however, that firemen had expected the device to touch off a small fire that would disable the rooftop bunker and allow authorities to enter the building from its roof.
These tactics are sure to come under close scrutiny in the days to come.
Panel Will Investigate