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Los Angeles Times
September 13, 2001 Thursday  Home Edition

SECTION: Part A; Part 1; Page 1; National Desk

LENGTH: 1733 words

Agonizing Search for Survivors;
New York: Rescue efforts continue on thin hopes. Residents offer aid, look for loved ones.

BYLINE: Los Angeles Times Team including special correspondent Russ Baker


Against a curtain of gray soot and smoke, in an urban wasteland of deserted streets and crushed vehicles, traumatized New Yorkers watched in horror Wednesday as the World Trade Center complex smoldered and the remainder of the South Tower collapsed.

Five critically injured survivors, including three police officers, were pulled out of the rubble. But there was a sense of doom and frustration as search teams failed to find further signs of life in the mounds of twisted concrete and steel in lower Manhattan.

The magnitude of the attack became clearer when nearly 300 firefighters searching for survivors descended into a 150-foot crater that reached into New York's subway system.

Officials said 82 deaths had been confirmed by Wednesday night, with another 1,700 people reported injured. The death toll from the nation's deadliest terrorism attack is expected to rise considerably. "The best estimate we can make is that there will be a few thousand [victims] left in each building," Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani told reporters. He said the city had asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for 6,000 body bags.

The devastation was so extensive that searchers were hard-pressed to locate what one called "viable body parts."

Giuliani, his face obscured by a white hospital mask and his wind breaker coated with ash from a visit to the disaster site, said as many as 300 firefighters, 40 city police officers and 100 to 150 Port Authority police officers were missing. Among them was John P. O'Neill, head of security for the World Trade Center and a former FBI terrorism expert.

Outside Bellevue Medical Center in Manhattan, hundreds of family members of the missing stood quietly in line hoping--many of them praying--for any scrap of information to end their agony.

Some brought framed photographs, others scribbled down medical information, some distributed fliers made at neighborhood copying centers--anything that might help hospital personnel determine whether their loved one was among the injured or dead.

Thomas Legree, 33, of Brooklyn, searched for word of his brother, Anthony Hawkins, 30, a maintenance worker on the 105th floor of the North Tower.

"I think . . . he's hurt and doesn't know who he is or something. Because otherwise Anthony would have called us, you know? He would have. He has a wife, Veronica. Anthony is not going to leave Veronica."

Fears of Danger Amid Wreckage

By late afternoon, a city already on edge was jolted by the rumbling collapse of the remainder of the South Tower in a plume of smoke. No serious injuries were reported, but some rescue workers feared the collapse might have killed anyone previously trapped in the rubble.

City officials worried that still other buildings could topple.

Fears of gas leaks and the possibility of asbestos and other toxic substances in the soot-filled air further complicated the rescue effort. Exhausted firefighters trained their hoses on the smoldering remains of several buildings.

Two huge yellow cranes gingerly lifted wreckage so that searchers with dogs and sound probes could detect signs of life. Firefighters in heavy black coats and sturdy helmets picked through the rubble.

It was hard, brutish work. "The air down there is totally toxic," said Peter Coppola, 37, a searcher from Nassau County. "You have to rinse your eyes every five minutes."

Giuliani said air quality was being tested regularly. "The air is safe as far as we can tell," he said.

At one point, firefighters toiled in the 150-foot-deep crater before warning sirens alerted them to the impending collapse of the South Tower. They fled for their lives.

"The crater doesn't look that ominous until you start climbing down and you look up," said Parrish Kelley, a firefighter who traveled from Massachusetts to participate in the search.

Wednesday afternoon, a cell phone tower toppled from one of the collapsed buildings and landed, to everyone's astonishment, upright on the ground. Someone climbed the tower and attached an American flag.

"Everyone stopped and saluted for a second," Kelley said. "It was pretty awesome."

Asked about possible survivors, Kelley replied: "Chances of survivors? I'd say slim to none."

Volunteer ironworkers wrestled girders aside in search of survivors.

"Every time we turn over a piece of steel, we find body parts," said Scott Young, a burly volunteer from Ironworkers Local 580 in New Jersey.

Coppola, the Nassau County searcher, said he found three bodies in the ruins during 16 hours of work. One was not identifiable. The second was the corpse of a man. The third was burned beyond recognition.

Police marshaled dogs to sniff out survivors or human remains. Rescue workers used tiny cameras to search crevices that might shelter a body. They dug with only their gloved hands.

Battalion Chief Gerry Koziak said he found the bodies of three men from his unit--with 17 still unaccounted for. He was certain they could still find people alive.

"There could be voids," Koziak said. "People could get lucky."

Port Authority officer John McLoughlin was found Wednesday morning alive under the debris.

"Hearing that news was like hearing about the birth of my own child," said Port Authority chief William Hall, who coordinated rescue efforts.

As the rescue continued, tons of debris were trucked to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, where it will be sifted by investigators searching for evidence, particularly the black boxes containing flight data from the downed airliners.

For a city that prides itself on resilience and perseverance, the sobering aftermath of Tuesday's twin attacks continued to batter New York City's psyche. Trauma doctors waited to treat survivors who never materialized. Thousands of New Yorkers who volunteered blood were turned away.

After the shock and terror of Tuesday morning, New Yorkers spoke of feeling helpless and lost in the face of a consuming tragedy whose outlines were still forming.

"I don't know where to go. I don't know who to see," said Ed Tegan, who joined throngs of anxious family members outside St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village. He held up photographs of his close friend, Jennifer Kane, 26, who he said was last seen Tuesday morning in her office on the 100th floor of the north World Trade Center tower.

Officials struggled to get the city back on its feet. Some bridges were reopened Wednesday, and schools were scheduled to resume today, except in Lower Manhattan. Giuliani said he hoped Broadway theaters would reopen today.

By returning to prosaic chores and workaday life, the mayor said, "it will send a signal to these cowards that we are stronger than they are."

Volunteers streamed through the streets Wednesday, looking for ways to help. Restaurant workers supplied baskets of fruit, platters of sandwiches and boxes of breakfast bars to rescuers, police, firefighters and city workers. Cafes in lower Manhattan, where police roped off the area below 14th Street, set out crates of bottled water and fruit juice on the sidewalk.

From Houston Street to the southern tip of Manhattan, a patina of gray dust coated everything: wrecked cars, the awnings of shuttered shops, mailboxes, flower boxes, the hair and clothes of police and firefighters and National Guard troops. The sky above the World Trade Center complex, streaked Tuesday with red flames and towering columns of black smoke, was marked Wednesday by gray and white smoke visible for miles.

Deserted Streets of Lower Manhattan

In the half-light of midday, with the sun blotted out by dust, workers in hard hats tore fitfully at the remains of the World Trade Center, dwarfed by the towering ruins. The 110-story towers, which once stood 1,350 feet, had collapsed floor by floor.

"Everything piled like a stack of pancakes," said Roger Tobias of the Pennsylvania Search and Rescue Task Force. "Chances of survival in this one is just in the pockets and voids--which there aren't too many of."

Just north of the disaster site, lower Manhattan was an urban prairie. Streets were vacant except for chunks of debris and thousands of financial documents blown from the downed buildings by the force of the blasts. Apartments were locked and empty; city park officials distributed forms for residents who wanted to be escorted into their apartments to retrieve pets.

Block after block, windows were shattered. Shops and restaurants were shuttered. Some were plastered with hand-lettered signs: "SIGN UP HERE FOR VOLUNTEER SERVICE" and "CLOSED DUE TO NEW YORK EMERGENCY."

Elsewhere in the city, millions of conversations focused on the tragedy--on subways, on sidewalks, in the middle of streets closed by police or left empty by workers who stayed home Wednesday. Doormen and delivery men pored over newspapers. TV sets blared from shops and doorways. At the United Nations, where a bomb scare was reported, members of the Security Council denounced the terror attack.

Late Wednesday night, the Empire State Building was evacuated because of fears of a bomb that proved unfounded. Police herded hundreds of pedestrians from the landmark until a bomb squad determined that it was safe.

Down the broad and nearly deserted avenues, New Yorkers rode bicycles and skated to reach police lines near the Trade Center. Some stood and gawked, but others brought food, water and surgical masks to hand out to search crews. Several said they wished they could do more.

General Electric pledged $10 million to a fund for the families of police, firefighters and emergency workers killed in the disaster, Giuliani said. He said Cisco Systems had pledged another $4 million.

New York Gov. George Pataki spoke Wednesday of the city's irrepressible nature.

"I was visiting a fallen firefighter who was hospitalized," Pataki said. "He looked around and said: 'What do you expect? I'm a New Yorker.'

"That is the spirit and the heart" of the city, the governor added. "He got tears in his eyes, and he talked about his partner who was missing who's got 10 kids."

Charles E. Schumer, New York's senior Democratic senator, said simply: "They cannot stop New York. They will not stop New York."



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