|11 September 2001>News Stories>Rescue Workers Rush In, and Many Do Not Return
Rescue Workers Rush In, and Many Do Not Return
EDWARD WONG and JANE FRITSCH . NYTimes . 12 September
As many as 2,000 rescue workers were trying early this morning to find trapped survivors from the collapse of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, searching through the rubble and listening for signs of life, whether they came from cell phone calls or from buried whispers.
"All night, we'll keep trying to get people through tomorrow," Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said at a news conference shortly before midnight.
Mayor Giuliani estimated that thousands of people had died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on Tuesday, and that the final body count "will be very large."
But mourning was pushed aside early today as workers focused on those who were still alive. There were indications that at least two people had used their cell phones to call from the basement of One World Trade Center, and they had said during their calls that there were others trapped there, Mayor Giuliani said.
Earlier in the night, two Port Authority officers were rescued from beneath rubble near Trinity and Church Streets. They had been trapped there since the morning, said Inspector Gene Ceccarelli of the Port Authority Police Department.
"The rescue teams are able to get very close now," Mayor Giuliani said. "It was very difficult during the day. But in most places they're able to operate."
Rescue workers were holding out hope that some people were managing to survive in pockets of air called "voids." A group of four or five firefighters had been taken earlier to St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village after being rescued from such a space. They had emerged without realizing the building had collapsed on top of them.
But those working above the rubble early this morning were searching with the knowledge that they were looking for many of their own. More than 300 firefighters were reported missing, and "we believe many of them are gone," a fire official said. The dead included some of the highest-ranking members of the department, including Peter J. Ganci, the chief of department; William M. Feehan, first deputy fire commissioner; and Raymond M. Downey, the chief of rescue operations.
The disaster was the worst in the history of the New York Fire Department, with explosions having collapsed the two main towers of the World Trade Center on to the first wave of rescuers as they snaked through stairwells and hallway.
"It's just a devastating thing," a fire official said. "The fire department will recover, but I don't know how."
Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said that most of the police sergeants in the area had escaped, but that many officers and detectives remained missing. More than 30 members of the department were unaccounted for, he said.
Throughout the night, fire officials went from firehouse to firehouse doing head counts to determine the death toll.
In the tumult of Tuesday morning, the temporary command center set up on a nearby street to deal with the calamity was buried in a rolling wave of concrete chunks.
One of the fire department's Roman Catholic chaplains, Mychal Judge, had rushed to the scene to comfort victims, only to be killed in the collapse.
There was no trace of three of the fire department's most elite units, Rescues 1, 2 and 4, officials said last night.
Police officials said that as the day unfolded, several officers who had been presumed lost had surfaced.
As night deepened, officials were able to bring in cranes and heavy shovels to begin moving rubble in hopes of finding survivors. At the same time, they had to contend with several fires that were still burning in adjacent buildings, officials said.
But for most of the day, the notion of a rescue effort seemed remote.
"We will be lucky if we don't lose 200 or 300 guys," said Michael Carter, vice president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, who was on the scene. "There are entire companies we can't find. At this point, it's less of a firefighting operation and more like a war."
Like dazed and bloodied soldiers, thousands of firefighters and police officers wandered helplessly throughout the afternoon and evening on the West Side Highway, blocked by the danger of further catastrophe from attempting to enter the scene. Officials feared the collapse of 7 World Trade Center, another high-rise burning in the complex, as well as other high-rise buildings bordering the complex. Throughout the afternoon, bricks cascaded from a burning building south of the site. By early evening, 7 World Trade Center finally fell.
By the time the buildings collapsed, more than 400 firefighters were at the scene, many of them racing up stairways to reach people trapped on the upper floors, fire officials said. Many of the rescuers were from six-person units that specialize in building collapses, and many are now missing, presumed to have died when the buildings collapsed.
Marite Anez, who was working in an office on the 87th floor of 1 World Trade Center, said that as she and hundreds of others scrambled down stairways, she passed many firefighters climbing up.
When she reached the first floor, she said, the building collapsed. "You couldn't see anything," she said. "That's when everyone panicked. Everyone was pushing. The fire people gave us light, showed us the way out. The ones who were going up, I'm sure they died."
Edward Fahey, among the first firefighters to arrive, said he had to dodge bodies that were being propelled from windows on the upper floors.
Robert Byrne, from a fire company on Houston Street, said he was on the 30th floor when the second plane hit. "We were trying to evacuate civilians," he said. "The hallways were filled with dust and smoke. The whole building was shaking. We feared it would collapse, and the chief said to get the hell out of there."
Like many survivors, Mr. Byrne seemed oblivious to the soot and dust that covered his body. He stared blankly and spoke haltingly.
"I managed to get out of the building just a few seconds before it collapsed," he said. "I hugged the wall with a couple of people. We got very lucky. I don't know what happened to the company. Just me and the lieutenant got out."
From the beginning, the city's emergency response was hampered. Soon after the first plane hit, the command center for the Office of Emergency Management at 7 World Trade Center was evacuated.
Fire officials set up a mobile unit outside the complex, on Vesey Street, but that was destroyed when the buildings came down. After that, fire officials moved their command post to a firehouse in Greenwich Village, at Houston Street and Avenue of the Americas.
There were conflicting reports about whether people in the second building were told to evacuate after the first tower was hit. Several people said they heard an announcement over the building's public address system saying they should stay put, and that the building was secure. Others said they did not hear any announcements.
One former Port Authority official said that according to procedures drawn up with the Fire Department, evacuations would only be conducted on the floors immediately above and below the fire. With a capacity of 50,000 workers, simultaneous evacuation of all occupants could lead to chaos, the former official said.
For many, the only help had to come from colleagues and others who were fleeing.
A woman who worked for Morgan Stanley on the 64th floor of Tower 2 — able to walk only with crutches — was carried down by fellow employees. "It was incredibly difficult," said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. "They had me over their shoulder for 5 or 10 flights and just couldn't do it."
Another co-worker she knew only as Louis came upon the struggling group, lifted the woman to his shoulder and carried her by himself, she said, adding that the temperature in the stairwell was at least 90 degrees.
At about the 15th or 20th floor, the woman recalled, a security guard said they were out of danger, and urged Louis to leave the woman and continue on his own. Louis refused.
"He carried me down all 54 flights, and then out of the building," she said, "all the way to the E.M.T. guys, and he stuck with me until we got one who said I could go in an ambulance."
After the first building collapsed, people began looking everywhere for survivors amid the rubble. Flames popped out of an ambulance; taxis slammed into buildings. One man walked around calling out, "Is anyone there? Show me an arm. Show me an arm." He got no response.
Someone asked a firefighter, "Is there anything I can do?"
"There's nothing anybody can do," the firefighter replied. "There's nothing anybody can do."
Firefighters appeared utterly dejected and dumbfounded, standing around with their hands on their hips.
Mike Fitzpatrick, 38, said he and seven other firefighters were in the lobby of the first building to collapse when one became trapped. They had begun trying to cut him out when the second building collapsed, and they couldn't hear him anymore. Then they had to leave.
"We stayed because one of our officers was trapped," he said. "We were trying to dig him out — we were trying to dig him out. He was alive. It collapsed on him."
By 11 a.m. Eastern time, hundreds of dazed firefighters were on the scene. Many were on their knees; some were crying, their heads in their hands, sitting on piles of debris.
No one raced toward the wreckage, afraid that more would fall. Some called their families on borrowed cell phones.
"I love you too," one said. "I'll come home safe — don't worry."
At 1:45 p.m. small groups of firefighters and construction workers climbed gingerly over piles of shifting debris three to five stories high, as gas-main explosions boomed in the distance. They found nothing. At 2 p.m., five hours after the collapse, the first bulldozers arrived at the corner of Liberty and Church Streets to begin moving debris. At 3 p.m., dozens of firefighters began combing through the rubble, but after only half an hour of searching, fears of another collapse forced them to scramble away.
Firefighters south of the complex faced the worst conditions, with a steady wind blowing acrid black smoke and huge plumes of dust in their faces. Throughout the afternoon, the smoke and dust obscured the debris and forced firemen to pour bottles of water over their eyes so they could see. Some firefighters picked up small sections of the buildings, but they made little headway. As the afternoon wore on, fires continued to burn south of the complex and the rescue effort made little to no progress. A sea of firefighters and police officers slumped against buildings or sat dejectedly on the West Side Highway for most of the afternoon. Many refused to talk. Many were in tears.
Lines of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles sat covered with a thick coating of dust and office papers that had floated out of the sky. They had come from Passaic, N.J., Hicksville, N.Y., all over the region, but mostly they had to sit and wait.
Frank Carino, 36, a New York firefighter, said he had tried to rescue men on the seventh and eighth floors of one building but the ladder of his aerial truck did not reach high enough. "They had broken the windows and they were yelling out at us the stairways were on fire," he said. "One of the men was using a megaphone." He added that he believed the two were rescued by firefighters within the building.
Another firefighter, who declined to give his name, knelt on the asphalt, a towel over his shoulder and his eyes bloodshot.
"I saw at least 10 people jump," he said. "I heard even more than that land and crash through the glass ceiling in the atrium. We could hear them crash. We thought the roof was crashing down but then we looked up and saw that people were falling through the glass. Some people fell right onto the pavement." He stopped, unable to continue talking.
He said he entered the lobby of 2 World Trade Center with his company, but was immediately blown across the lobby. "We did our best to crawl out," he said. "My company is still missing two guys. They went back in to help people."
By early Tuesday evening, hundreds of firefighters stood and watched as ladder trucks poured water onto sections of the towers still belching black smoke. The sense of shock and urgency of earlier in the day was gone. As daylight faded, a handful of firefighters, constructions workers and police officers still scrambled over the rubble with flashlights, but found the same thing as teams earlier in the day — no sounds, no voices, little sign of life.
At the corner of Liberty and Church Streets, a five-story section of the top of a building loomed over the road, causing firefighters to stare anxiously above them as they walked below. A New York State flag still flew in front of 7 World Trade Center but the building was a blackened mass. Six inches of ash and office paper covered the graves at the St. James Cathedral, across the street from the towers.
By 6 p.m., a bulldozer had finally managed to clear a single lane of Liberty Street south of the building, allowing fire trucks to enter the area and begin pouring water on smoking sections of the building.
The chaplain who died, Father Judge, 68, was found by firefighters on the street along with his driver, who was also dead. They recognized him and took him to St. Peter's Church on Barclay Street, where they laid his body at the altar. "The church was there and they figured it was a safe place to put him," said Brother Thomas Cole of the St. Francis Friary on 31st Street, where Father Judge lived.
His body, wrapped in sheets, was later moved to the empty firehouse across the street from the friary. Later, two dozen friars and firefighters, some weeping, held an impromptu service for him there, reciting the blessing of St. Francis: "May the Lord bless you and keep you and show his face to you, and have mercy on you."
Brother Cole said that Father Judge's morning prayer had been for "peace and joy in our city."
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, also a Fire Department chaplain, recalled that Father Judge gave a sermon recently, "a homily about how you have to enjoy each day with your friends and family. He was a remarkable human being."