Sunday, July 4, 2010

'Workers' Hope Starts to Fade With Time,' LA Times

The Los Angeles Times

'Rescue: As New York tries to restore some normality, few forget three days had passed since anyone was pulled alive from the wreckage.'

September 16, 2001|

Charles Ornstein, Times Staff Writer
David Zucchino, Times Staff Writer
Walter Hamilton, Times Staff Writer
Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer
Jon Peterson, Times Staff Writer
John J. Goldman, Times Staff Writer

Rich Nappi, a firefighter with Engine 7
Victor Antonucci, a sheet-metal worker
Joe Casaliggi, firefighter
Peter J. Ganci, Chief of Department
Rev. Mychal Judge, Franciscan priest, department's chaplain
William M. Feehan, first deputy commissioner.
Richard Grasso, NYSE chairman
Rev. Michael Duffy, Judge's "good friend"
President Bill Clinton, was acquainted with Father Judge

NEW YORK — On day five of New York's state of siege, as three fallen fire chiefs were lowered into their graves, something changed in the minds of some of the men digging into the earth at ground zero. They did not yet give up hope, but they began to fear the moment when hope will die.

It was a subtle shift, like the thought that struck Rich Nappi as he tore with his hands at the debris of the World Trade Center on Saturday morning. "It hit me that you have to face facts, that it's getting late and chances are getting pretty slim," said Nappi, a firefighter with Engine 7 in lower Manhattan.

It hit Victor Antonucci too, as he burned away at crumpled steel beams with a torch, only to be ordered to cease because somebody thought they had heard a noise from someone trapped below. But after dogs were summoned and ropes were lowered, there was nothing--no survivor, no body, nothing but dust.

"It got me thinking: How long can somebody stay alive under there?" said Antonucci, a sheet-metal worker.

Far from the mournful peal of church bells and the sounding of taps at funerals for the fire officials, the men at ground zero tried to get on with business, just like everyone else in this fractured city. But even as New York finalized plans to reopen its financial district and downtown subway lines Monday morning, no one could forget that three days had passed since anyone was pulled alive from the wreckage.

"Nothing happened the day before, or the day before that, so it gets harder and harder to maintain hope--even though you know you have to," firefighter Joe Casaliggi said after he finished his morning shift of hoisting rubble for the bucket brigades.

The three Fire Department funerals made it tougher for everyone. "Today was a very solemn and difficult day in New York City," said Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who attended one of the funerals.

As the fire officials were mourned, the rescuers dug and the cranes swung their loads, and the death toll mounted. It reached 184 Saturday, with 4,972 people listed as missing. Among them are 300 firefighters, 40 Port Authority police officers, 23 New York City police officers, an FBI agent and a Secret Service agent. About 1,200 missing-persons reports have been received from outside New York City.

Searchers have recovered 159 bodies, 99 of them identified. More than 400 body parts have been recovered. Five survivors were pulled from the disaster site Wednesday.

Even with the dread that had begun to seize some of the men in the ruins, no one had given up hope.

"There's still the possibility that we can recover people still alive," Giuliani said, citing experts.

New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik spoke of the possibility of "voids" or "vacuum areas" in the rubble that might provide air to trapped survivors.

"We are going to keep up hope, keep our prayers going and just hope for the best," Kerik said. "It's possible. . . . We're going to keep up what we're doing until it's over."

The mayor and other top city officials spoke at a newly opened emergency operations center on the city's West Side. The city's previous center was damaged in the attacks Tuesday.

Even as they spoke of searching for survivors and consoling relatives of the dead or missing, the city's leaders seem determined to provide as normal a workday as possible Monday morning. The New York Stock Exchange, the New York Mercantile Exchange and City Hall will open.

"Come Monday morning, the greatest capital market in the world will be back in business," said Richard Grasso, NYSE chairman.

Describing Tuesday's attacks as possibly "the most jarring event in American history," Giuliani stressed the need for New Yorkers to feel that day-to-day life is returning to normal.

"Life has to go on," he said. "That's part of the process.'

While acknowledging that it will be traumatic for many people to return so soon to an area where thousands of people were killed, the mayor said: "We have to get past that stage. We have to go back as much as possible, responsibly, to life and to business."

On Wall Street on Saturday, the New York exchange was draped with an enormous American flag. The streets nearby were crammed with telephone and electrical workers, who set up generators and restored phone service. The exchange was not physically damaged by the trade center attack, but electricity and communications systems were hit hard.

Before announcing Monday's openings, city officials attended funerals for the Fire Department leaders: Chief of Department Peter J. Ganci; the Rev. Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest who was the department's chaplain; and William M. Feehan, first deputy commissioner.

Giuliani called the three men "casualties of war." "They are heroes, like the heroes we had at Pearl Harbor," he said. "Each one tried to save lives."

The mayor described how Ganci ordered his men out of harm's way Tuesday morning and dashed into the chaos to save firefighters. He spoke of Feehan's refusal to leave his post, where he later died. And he told of Father Judge felled by flying debris as he knelt, his helmet off, to administer last rites to a dying firefighter.

"All of us who were privileged to know him feel a special loss," former President Clinton said of the chaplain, whom he first met at a White House ceremony.

Inside St. Francis of Assisi church in midtown, across the street from a firehouse, Judge's good friend, the Rev. Michael Duffy, delivered the homily. He described a selfless man who was not without vanity. Father Judge loved to be photographed. As was his custom before racing to a fire, Father Duffy said, he made sure to comb and spray his hair before dashing to the trade center.

Later, in Central Park, there was a reminder of the backlash directed at Arabs and, in some cases, South Asians. Thousands of members of New York's Sikh community held a candlelight vigil Saturday night to express their patriotism and sympathy for the terror victims.

Among the Sikhs waving American flags and reciting prayers in Punjabi were people who said they had been harassed since Tuesday.

"People think we must be Muslim terrorists because of the way we look," said Jagdeep Singh Narula. "But we're not. We're Americans, and our hearts are hurting too. We lost friends and family members too."

At the disaster site, the search-and-rescue teams were buoyed by thousands of New Yorkers who flowed downtown to the National Guard barricades. There, they applauded workers who emerged filthy and sweaty from the ruins. People waved American flags and offered bottled water and held up handwritten signs that read "God Bless America."

Because so many people have volunteered their services and donated so much food and water, city officials made a public appeal Saturday for an end to the offerings. Gov. George Pataki suggested that people volunteer instead for their local fire department or the National Guard and that they contribute to the Red Cross or Salvation Army.

But the outpouring of support did not alter the reality at ground zero.

Giuliani said it is likely that, in some cases, the bodies of the missing will never be found. It could be "a significant number of people," he said.

"People have to know that," he added.

Moments later, New York City Fire Commissioner Thomas Van Essen tried to describe the excruciating and perilous job of searching for survivors and bodies while trying to clear away the remains of two skyscrapers that once stood 110 stories high. Van Essen spoke in a low, grave voice; he had just returned from the funerals.

"My guys describe it to me like a crater, almost like a volcano," he said. "It goes down seven stories. This is very, very difficult, unbelievably dangerous work. The odds of saving people are very slim."

The commissioner paused and then said what the men at ground zero already knew all too well: "It doesn't mean we should not get in there. . . . And each day, we will reevaluate that and decide when this rescue becomes a recovery."

Times staff writers Walter Hamilton, Tony Perry, Jon Peterson and John J. Goldman contributed to this story.

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