Thursday, September 13, 2001

Body recovery part of work of NYC crews

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW YORK — A firefighter is standing where a building used to be. He turns and shouts.

        “They got a torso and an arm. But there's no head, no legs, nothing.”

        He rubs his face, smearing sweat and soot. It's unclear to whom he is talking.

[photo] Nothing but devastation is visible for blocks around what was the World Trade Center. The American Express building stands, damaged.
(Robert Anglen photos)
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        I am standing in the middle of hell.

        It is Wednesday morning and this is ground zero of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. I have walked into the roped-off area with a contractor working at the scene. Buried in rubble around me are the bodies of thousands of people trapped when the World Trade Center collapsed 24 hours ago.

        A pedestrian bridge that once straddled the Joe DiMaggio Highway lies on the ground, its facade held in place by hydraulic jacks. The highway itself is a staging ground for thousands of firefighters, police officers, sanitation crews, construction and water workers, military personnel, and American Red Cross and other volunteers.

        It's a tableau from some post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic. Not modern-day New York.

        “I saw a part of a hand sticking up from the ground,” says Doug Goodstein of Manhattan, who rode his bike down here Tuesday and stayed all night to hand out food.

        “... I looked the other way when the bodies started coming out.”

        But survivors are also coming out. A man with two broken ankles. Two police officers. Word is a woman was rescued on the other side of a building.

        But for every survivor, there must be thousands who didn't make it.

[photo] Firefighters shoot water on buildings in the World Trade Center complex.
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        Cadaver dogs search the rubble. Rescuers dig caves out of twisted debris with their bare hands, probing deep into buildings. They work in unending shifts, and they seem as numb and mechanical as the rotating dump trucks that are hauling out debris.

        The horror of their jobs is reflected in glazed eyes and muttered prayers.

        “I helped dig out two bodies,” says tractor operator Adam Sikoria. “I've been here all night, 24 hours. It's a disaster.”

        The sprawling twin towers have been reduced to a pile of twisted metal and concrete. Another building — directly north of the trade center — also has collapsed, spilling fresh debris onto the old wreckage.

        The noise is constant, but unlike Tuesday, it's not sirens and screams. It's horns and pounding of gears.

        Masks are almost essential to breathe and the buildings that remain standing in the vicinity bear hideous scars. In one, 20 floors of windows are blown out. In another, gaping holes appear.

        Firefighters spray water onto fallen buildings and into dump trucks carrying still-burning material.

        It is a bright day in Manhattan, but down here it's twilight made by plumes of smoke that blot out the sun. No fires are visible, but a passing firefighter says fires are burning hundreds of feet underground.

        For blocks in every direction, the ground is a mush of ash, soot, paper and water. Paper is strewn from thousands of desks and offices that no longer exist. Pieces of note cards, pictures, cindered memos.

        Soot-covered cars are parked where their drivers left them. Bikes are still locked to lamp posts. Police cars and fire trucks, probably parked as the horror of the first air attack unfolded, are here, too.

        Maintenance worker Al Gover surveys the scene while chewing a peanut butter sandwich.

        “I never thought I'd be seeing any of this,” he says between bites. “They pulled a guy out (Tuesday). Another, they were going to have to amputate his leg to get him out.”

        After finishing his sandwich, he stuffs a dry cigar in his mouth. He goes through the ritual of cutting the end and spitting out the nub.

        But he doesn't light up.

        “Got to be careful. Still pockets of gas around here,” he says.

        As if to underscore the unworldly feeling, police and firefighters are reduced to looting. Supplies are so limited that rescuers throughout Tuesday and Wednesday were forced to break into stores, hotels and restaurants. They seek food and shelter. But mostly water.

        The lobby of the Embassy Suites has become a de facto dorm for tired workers who refused to leave the scene.

        New York sanitation worker Pete Lazare of Queens refuses to allow the shock of Tuesday's attack to overshadow his pride in his city.

        “See how we do it? Everybody is pitching in,” Mr. Lazare says. “We've got people from all over down here.”

        Crane operator Nelson Eddie has been on the scene all morning. He is proud of his city, too. But he's also angry, and he's not making any secret about it.

        In a thick New York accent he says, “This is crazy. And I'm still shocked. But I'll tell you what this means. I'll tell you, it's world war.”

        Robert Anglen is an Enquirer news reporter who was on vacation in New York City when the terrorist attacks occurred.

At a glance
Attacks are topic No. 1 in classrooms
- Body recovery part of work of NYC crews
Constituents' emotions unmitigated
Different faiths, all drawn to pray
Family clings to details of missing woman's fate
Jews seek normalcy
Local firefighters on task force joining rescue efforts
Muslims urged to give aid
No date, time for nation's air travel to resume
Outpouring of donations keeps blood supply steady
Relatives wait for word, pray
Stranded travelers find help in Florence
Tightened air security will be norm
Travelers wait, pray in deserted airport
Work resumes, but life is different
Wright-Patterson medical personnel join effort
PULFER: Cell phones
RADEL: Tristate sprouts flying flags
Reports bring sweep of river
Court upholds stay for Byrd
Luken suggests raises for cadets
Luken unused to second place
Primary results
Council halts bid for road-extension vote
Superintendent's contract extended
Tristate A.M. Report
Woman shot outside school as it lets out