Saturday, September 15, 2001

Few rest at ground zero

By Karen Samples
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW YORK CITY — It's noon Friday at ground zero — the moment designated for national prayer. But nobody stops. They are too busy, angry and tired to pause for reflection, much less keep track of time.

        “Has noon passed?” asks Allan Boyce, a canine handler from New Jersey waiting to join a team amid the rubble of the World Trade Center towers.

        “I don't even know what day it is.”

        Mr. Boyce and hundreds of other disaster workers and law enforcement officials spend the fourth day post-attack in a section of Manhattan that looks like occupied territory. Convoys of Army trucks and emergency vehicles, many with American flags, rumble past evacuated buildings.

        Within the secure zone five blocks from the ruins, Stuyvesant High School has been turned into an impromptu command center swarming with FBI agents, New York police officers, dog handlers, firefighters and doctors.

        Most of the food service at the center is being handled by people wearing yellow T-shirts that say “Church of Scientology volunteer.”

        Exhausted, soot-covered workers sit underneath fliers urging Stuyvesant students to join the speech and debate team. The entrance to the auditorium is now a care station for cadaver-sniffing dogs, who come out of the rubble with injured feet and dust-covered fur.

        At the school's front doors, someone has hung a mispelled sign warning rescue workers that “asbestos levels are high. Please where masks.”

        Stuyvesant's first floor has been transformed into a M.A.S.H.-like unit, but without survivors to treat, the only busy areas are for medical massage and psychiatric care. On Friday, a search dog named Shannon gets a professional rubdown, eyes closed and legs in the air.

        Periodically, teary-eyed rescue workers seek out psychiatrists. But the doctors also actively look for patients. One psychiatric nurse said he searches for a certain look in people's eyes — a barely contained hysteria — and gently suggests treatment. Some of the workers are simply exhausted, others young and unprepared for the sight of human body parts, said the nurse, a Vietnam veteran on the staff of Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan.

        Across the street from Stuyvesant at PS 89, an elementary school, a line of men snakes out the doors and down half a block. Volunteer firefighters, plumbers, engineers, welders and emergency medical technicians, they already had spent hours waiting for assignments at the Javits Center in midtown Manhattan. Told they might not be needed at the scene, the men had taken off walking anyway — a sea of hard hats and yellow rain slickers led by a tradesman carrying an American flag.

        Mike Gagnon, an engineer from Portland, Maine, slept in his Jeep on Thursday night and joined the line at the Javits Center at 6 a.m. Then he and the others walked 40 blocks into Lower Manhattan in a steady rain, only to wait in line some more.

        “At least,” says Mr. Gagnon, “you feel like you are doing something.”
       Karen Samples was on vacation in New York City when the attack took place.


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