Search, rescue work continues

Herald news services

NEW YORK — As the smoldering ashes of the World Trade Center slowly yielded unimaginable carnage, search and rescue efforts continued unabated Wednesday at the disaster site in lower Manhattan.

At least nine people were found alive Wednesday, but such hopeful signs of life from the still-smoking site were countered by a growing list of tragedies.

In one indication of the potential death toll, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was asked about a report that the city has requested 6,000 body bags from federal officials. "Yes, I believe that’s correct," said the mayor.

In another, 2,500 people visited a grief counseling center handling questions about missing family members Wednesday.

The last few floors that remained of the trade center’s south tower collapsed Wednesday afternoon in yet another cloud of thick smoke. No injuries were reported, but rescuers were evacuated from part of the area where the 1,350-foot titans stood.

Police and fire officials said there were problems with other "mini-collapses" among some badly damaged buildings nearby, and when the towers were destroyed, the Marriott World Trade Center hotel fell with them.

The search and rescue mission continued despite the problems.

The devastation turned the concrete canyons of lower Manhattan into a dust-covered ruin of girders and boulders of broken concrete. A Brooks Brothers clothing store became a morgue, where workers brought any body parts they could find.

Progress for rescuers in New York was slow. Cranes and heavy machinery were used, but gingerly, for fear of dislodging wreckage and harming any survivors. Searchers with picks and axes worked slowly, too — sometimes when they opened pockets in the debris, fires flared.

The workers’ grim task was interrupted by brief epiphanies of life, when a fortunate victim was pulled alive from the wreckage of the steel-and-glass buildings.

Among those rescued alive were six firefighters and three police officers, all of whom had arrived at the blast sight early Tuesday in response to the first explosion, only to be pinned down by the fallout from the second, less than 20 minutes later.

Throughout the day, truckloads of National Guardsmen and later, U.S. Marines, supplanted weary local fire and police officials, many of whom had been toiling since shortly after the first explosion Tuesday morning.

Those with access to the site described incomprehensible carnage and destruction, with torn human limbs and pieces of the fallen towers strewn together under a choking layer of dust and soot. One rescue worker described the scene as the size of a city dump, but with the contents of a horror movie.

Search and rescue efforts included teams with dogs, workers armed with shovels and picks, and law enforcement and medical personnel from neighboring cities and states. Trucks loaded with debris made regular trips in and out of the area, and sirens became less frequent throughout the day as hopes dimmed of finding more survivors.

Among the presumed victims of the attacks are a total of 226 on the airplanes, from 100 to 800 at the Pentagon, and quite possibly thousands in New York City, where some 50,000 people worked in offices at the decimated twin towers.

Rescue workers said they hoped and expected the death count would remain well below that number, however, since the terrorists struck early in the morning before many workers in the buildings had arrived at their offices.

Companies that leased space in the trade center began realizing the awful consequences of the violence. Thirty-eight people from Fred Alger Management Inc. were missing, including the company’s president, David Alger.

"The terrorist attack is a personal tragedy for my family as well as for all of our employees and their families," said Fred Alger, the company founder and David’s brother.

Giuliani said the best estimate is that a "a few thousand" victims would be left in each building, potentially including 250 missing firefighters and police officers.

There were 82 confirmed fatalities — a number that was sure to grow. Another 1,700 injuries were reported.

The four hijacked planes carried 266 people, none of whom survived.

Meanwhile, hundreds of family members of the missing stood quietly in a line Wednesday outside Bellevue Hospital hoping, many praying, for any scrap of information to end their agony.

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

Cyrus Smith, a college adviser from Brooklyn, had walked nearly five miles to Bellevue hoping to find information about his sister-in-law, Tamathia Freeman, 35, who worked for AON insurance brokerage "somewhere" above the 84th floor of the second tower.

"Our whole family gathered last night, and we were just sure we’d get that phone call from somebody saying that Tamathia was OK," Smith said. "I don’t know what to think now. I came here just because, you know? Because I have to do something."

Fear that unstable hunks of the damaged Pentagon might collapse on rescue teams slowed the search for bodies much of the day Wednesday, but by evening, stretchers laden with remains were being carried from the wreckage in a steady procession.

Members of the Army recovery team said the remains of more than 40 people had been removed by shortly after dark Wednesday, adding to six bodies that had been found Tuesday. More than 94 people had been treated at area hospitals for injuries suffered in the Pentagon attack.

Officials at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary in Delaware — the only one operated by the military in the country — were told to expect to process about 100 victims, although it was not clear whether that included the 64 people who were aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when the Boeing 757 plunged into the building Tuesday morning. A spokesman for the base, Maj. John Anderson, said that "there’s just no telling" what the final tally will be.

Fires that had raged since the hijacked jet struck the Pentagon’s west side were finally contained Wednesday afternoon, and the smoke that had drifted over many parts of the capital region dissipated. But the gaping wound slashed by the plane was such an unsteady mass of steel and concrete that officials were reluctant to allow recovery teams to enter it. Especially worrisome was a huge section of the five-story building that leaned at a 45-degree angle and seemed ready to fall.

The already difficult task of recovery was hampered further about noon when word raced among the hundreds of rescuers that an unidentified plane was heading for the Pentagon, pursued by fighter aircraft.

FBI agents, Pentagon personnel, local law enforcement officers, doctors, nurses and others, many covered with soot from their labors, dashed away from the crash site, only to learn that the plane belonged to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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