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1/25/2018 7:38:29 AM
Posted: 12/7/2001 5:49:44 AM EST
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/07/nyregion/07BODI.html In the Ongoing Search for Bodies, Hope Is Derived From the Horror December 7, 2001 In the Ongoing Search for Bodies, Hope Is Derived From the Horror By ERIC LIPTON The workers were four floors below ground, amid the still-steaming mass of twisted steel and debris when they made the discovery last Saturday: the remains of perhaps a dozen people who had been trapped in a stairwell at the World Trade Center when the north tower collapsed. In the surreal world of ground zero, the gruesome find was something of a hopeful development. The group of what appeared to be office workers, their bodies largely intact, meant that a handful of victims' families would soon get the confirmation and mild comfort they had long been waiting for. And the discovery also seemed to lend support to what has been a largely unspoken belief among recovery workers — that the deeper they got, the greater the chance that additional human remains would be found. The theory that more bodies might be found below ground level resulted from an understanding of how the towers fell, and how the compression of floor upon floor of the 110-story buildings might have completely crushed many of the people on the higher floors and the rescue workers climbing to them. More identifiable bodies, experts believed, might have remained entombed in the pockets of space that existed at the base of the towers or in the underground floors. "It is a hell of a thing to say, but we are really making progress," said Deputy Fire Chief Charles R. Blaich, who stood at ground zero for hours on Saturday afternoon, watching as firefighters used hand tools and shovels to delicately extract the bodies, one at a time. The medical examiner's records give a clear indication of the surge in recovering remains over the last 10 days. Few complete bodies are being pulled from the site: that number stood yesterday at 225, up only 17 in the last three weeks. But the number of remains recovered has jumped by 799 during that same period, after leveling off in early November. "It is encouraging," said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the chief medical examiner, who is handling the identification process. And there is more news from the medical examiner's office: recent DNA testing of recovered remains has produced about 800 distinct profiles of people killed in the attack. Assuming that the city has adequate DNA samples from family members to allow a match, most of these victims should ultimately be identified, said Dr. Robert Shaler, the director of forensic biology at the medical examiner's office. To date, only 492 of the roughly 3,000 people killed at the World Trade Center have been positively identified, about 60 exclusively through DNA matches. "I am optimistic we will be able to make a significant dent into the number of missing people," Dr. Shaler said, adding that the work will most likely continue for a year or so. "I don't know if that is 50 percent or 40 percent, or whatever it will be." The effort to recover and identify remains has been practically difficult and emotionally intense. In recent weeks, as the cleanup work progressed, a sense has taken hold among many families of victims that the chances of finding many identifiable remains was desperately remote. So the discovery last weekend, and its potential implications for
Link Posted: 12/7/2001 5:50:21 AM EST
additional ones, is reassuring to the families who lost sons, daughters, husbands or wives. "You still have days you don't believe this has really happened," said Hans J. Gerhardt of Toronto, whose son, Ralph Gerhardt, 34, called his parents on the telephone just after the plane hit the north tower, where he worked in the 105th-floor office of Cantor Fitzgerald. "We want to find something of our son." As with other victims' relatives who were interviewed, there was a palpable sense of gratitude in Mr. Gerhardt's voice for the effort to identify his son's remains. "It obviously is a very gruesome task," he said, having traveled to New York to visit ground zero several times. "I am sure when they go home at night they cannot just walk away and forget about it." The process for uncovering remains is both grueling and grisly, Chief Blaich said. On Saturday, sometime after noon, crews digging in an area at the base of the north tower that they knew was a stairwell happened upon the remains. Their location could not have been in doubt: the B4 wall sign, for the fourth basement level, was still attached to a concrete column. As is typical of the trade center site, just next to this wall was a mountain of super-compacted debris perhaps 70 feet high, steam still rising. And to the east was a sloping mound of steel and other debris. Firefighters used pickaxes to dig an outline around the bodies, slowly separating them from the debris. Removing just the first victim took well over an hour, Chief Blaich said, as a variety of garden-like tools were taken in and the firefighters took extreme care not to cause any additional injury to the corpse. At one point, earth-moving equipment was drafted to gently pull away a steel beam that blocked off some victims. "It was painstakingly slow work," he said. "You can't say anyone felt good about what they were doing, that is not the right word. But they felt like the contributed something." Just yesterday, near the south tower, remains of what appeared to be a firefighter were found, a sign that the recent string of successes in finding victims was continuing. These finds are not surprising to Fire Department officials, as the deeper they have dug, the farther they have gotten to the base of the buildings. "We always expected to find, as we got to lower stairwells, more people," Deputy Fire Commissioner Francis X. Gribbon said. "There was a stream of people coming out of the stairwells as the buildings collapsed." The end result of this effort are scenes like the one on Sunday, in Pittsford, N.Y., where two Monroe County police officers waited for Cynthia Duffy to return home from church to tell her that the remains of her husband, Thomas W. Duffy, 52, a vice president at Marsh & McLennan, had been found. "Yes, he really was there," Mrs. Duffy said yesterday, adding that her religious beliefs had sustained her. "He really is gone." Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company | Privacy Information
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