Monday, November 05, 2001

Church members hear accounts from ground zero

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        EVENDALE — Unbearable grief that shrouded families of World Trade Center victims has evolved into denial for many survivors who still cling to hope.

        “He's still alive. I'm not giving up,” are familiar words to Lt. Charles Harris of the New York City Fire Department. “Vernon is coming home. He's in New Jersey with amnesia.”

        Having worked at ground zero, he knows the truth.

        Bodies have disintegrated into bones, fires still burn, and circuit breaker panels and desks are barely discernible.

        “It was like a blender effect,” he said.

        Lt. Harris and Karen Delancey, a 15-year offi cer with the New York City Police Department, talked about their experiences at ground zero during Civil Servant Day on Sunday at Landmark Baptist Temple in Evendale. The event honored area police officers and firefighters.

        “It was a very overwhelming experience,” Officer Delancey said of her work at ground zero. “Very sad. Very emotional. I'm glad I was there to help, and I plan to continue.”

        She's now assigned to the bereavement center, where survivors of victims come for assistance.

        She, too, witnesses denial when family members bring in photos of their loved ones, asking if she's seen them.

        Lt. Harris works with the ceremonial unit, helping funeral directors and families plan processions and formations for memorial services.

        He's helped with 215 services, so far.

        He also was at the World Trade Center after the 1993 bombing that killed six people.

        “That is life,” he said.

        “We lost thousands of people this time. We didn't learn. Nobody is safe.”

        Lt. Harris reminded the congregation that a similar catastrophe could happen here.

        “All you young people are doing the right thing being here in church. You never know what's go to happen. ... This is a senseless tragedy. Stay near the church.”

        Wanda Coogan of Silverton, a member of Landmark Baptist, said the visitors' talks were inspirational.

        The Rev. Matt Holman, who organized the event, called the New York Fire Department a week ago to ask if someone could attend.

        The two visitors used vacation time to come to Cincinnati.


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