hey found themselves in the landscape of nightmare, with
jagged stumps marking where mighty buildings once stood, with the
sky shrouded by smoke and the ground coated in ash, and search dogs
overwhelmed by the smell of flesh in the acrid air. But there was no
time to comprehend it all, not with the driving if faint hope that
buried somewhere beneath there breathed survivors.
And every now and then, word of a miracle raced through the ranks
— of a man asking about his children, of a woman with hair still
neatly braided — inspiring hundreds of soot-covered, weary rescue
workers to continue digging into the debris and steel that once were
the World Trade Center towers.
But these adrenaline-pumping moments of hope were sporadic and
few, tempered by the dawning, aching realization that for every
survivor — two on Tuesday, perhaps four yesterday — there were
probably thousands dead. By late afternoon, the jaws of huge cranes
were biting indiscriminately into the piles of rubble, while police
officers, firefighters, soldiers and other rescue workers pried at
the ground with shovels and crow bars to free body parts, bits of
human flesh, and rubbery patches of skin.
Then, like sanitation workers tending to some hellish park, they
carefully dumped the scraps of human remains into a green trash bag
held open by a soldier. At times, men gathered to puzzle over a
piece of flesh on the ground; dogs sniffed at the bits with little
enthusiasm and moved on.
"We don't find much," said a firefighter from East Rutherford,
At least publicly, city and state officials would not attach any
number to the estimated loss of life after two airplanes pierced the
twin towers Tuesday morning, a terrorist attack that leveled the
World Trade Center buildings.
Instead, the aftermath was hinted at in the discussion of
public-service employees missing and presumed dead: 350 New York
City firefighters, including senior officers and entire squads; 40
New York City police officers; as many as 200 employees of the Port
Authority of New York and New Jersey as well as at least 30 Port
Authority police officers.
Of the thousands presumed dead, only 82 bodies had been recovered
by last night, in a search-and-rescue effort that never seemed to be
beyond the reach of danger.
Yesterday afternoon, rescue workers scrambled — again — as a
remnant of the south tower crumbled, scattering debris. Hundreds of
people sought cover behind cars and walls. Then, a short while
later, they returned to their grim task.
Magnifying the horror of that task were the reports trickling
back to the rest of the world from a restricted and still-dangerous
location in the western part of Lower Manhattan, rechristened Ground
Zero. Of the 110-story twin towers now collapsed like stacks of
steel pancakes. Of social workers with no one to comfort, and
surgeons with no one to save, while surgical masks and shoes, gym
bags and underwear, littered the ground. Documents that once seemed
vital to commerce fluttered in the air.
At some point early yesterday morning — when breaks in the smoky
billows revealed a crescent moon — a body was pulled from the
rubble, and firefighters rushed forward to see if a colleague had
been found. It was a man whom no one recognized, wearing a white
shirt, black pants and a wedding ring.
Some of the firefighters cried as they eased the corpse into a
body bag and carried it away. "He was married, man," was all that
one could say. "He was married."
Such displays of emotion were few; the breadth of the tragedy
seemed so mind-numbing that many officials did not even attempt to
mask the cold details. When asked yesterday to describe the kinds of
injuries being seen among the victims brought to Bellevue Hospital
Center, Dr. Robert Hessler said: "The sort of injuries you expect
when billions of tons of rubble fall from the sky on top of
And James Vaughn, a New York state trooper in charge of a
cadaver- sniffing German shepherd named Garo, explained that the
crime scene was almost too much for the dog. "There's so much scent
it kind of overwhelms him," Trooper Vaughn said, as the dog lapped
water from a bowl during a break. "Basically, what he's doing is
smelling flesh in the air, and it's just coming out of the cracks.
But if a dog smelled flesh, people sensed hope that victims were
still alive, no matter how unlikely it seemed. Throughout the day
came reports, shared at one point by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, that
rescue workers were in communication with trapped victims, and that
cell phone calls were being placed from somewhere beneath the small
mountains of steel and concrete.
Climbing down from a hill of debris, Matt Cody, a New York City
firefighter, described how he had inched his way through crawl
spaces and tunnels, hunting for survivors but finding only human
remains, including those of a pregnant woman. But he said that the
memory of friends killed on Tuesday — Firefighter Danny Suhr,
crushed by a falling body, and Timothy Stackpole, just recovered
from injuries incurred at another fire — pushed him to keep
"I played football with Danny; I trained with him," Mr. Cody
said, his face wet with perspiration, his uniform gray with soot. "I
can't tell you how horrible it feels."
The mayor and others seemed to be counting on the likes of Matt
"That's why you've got to keep focusing on how many people can we
save," Mr. Giuliani said yesterday morning. "We know we've lost a
lot of people. Now we've got to focus on how many we can save."
After that, the city can focus on rebuilding, he said. "It's going
to be a beautiful place again."
A return to urban grandeur seemed such a foreign concept in a
place where thick dust darkened the day, and floodlights gave night
an eerie brightness. Even the wind caused problems: one minute it
was carrying the ash and dust eastward to Brooklyn; the next it was
blowing west to sting the eyes, inflame the throat, and force
officials to reposition their rescue operations.
It seemed that Lower Manhattan's world-famous skyline was now
reflected only on the arm patches of the city's rescue workers.
Through Tuesday night and into yesterday morning,
rescue-and-recovery workers dug, police officers guarded and medics
waited, playing their frustrating roles on a stage blanketed in ash
and flecked with bits of color. Red here for the flattened truck
from Rescue 1; blue there for a shard of a police car; orange
everywhere, for the body bags. And there were signs of red-
white-and-blue patriotism everywhere, including the silhouette of an
American flag drawn in the dust of a nearby window.