President tours disaster scene
Bush calls New York rescue workers heroes in the eyes of American public
By SHAWN MCCARTHY, The Globe and Mail
Saturday, September 15, 2001
NEW YORK -- To chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A," U.S. President George W. Bush toured the smoking site of the World Trade Center yesterday, providing an boost to hundreds of rescue workers who spent the day pulling human remains from the wreckage.
Mr. Bush arrived in Manhattan by helicopter in the late afternoon, and spent about an hour at the site where nearly 4,800 people are believed to have perished.
The President used a bullhorn to address the firefighters and volunteers when someone yelled they couldn't hear him.
"I hear you. The rest of the world hears you," he told the cheering workers. "And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear from all of us soon."
"In other words, taking care of business is going to happen," Newark firefighter Blake Juan-Palleija said after hearing the President speak.
Mr. Bush also thanked the rescuers, saying they are heroes in the eyes of their fellow Americans.
"The nation sends its love and compassion to everyone who is here. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for making the nation proud and may God bless America."
As of late yesterday, the official casualty count remained 164 individuals discovered in the wreckage. Only 35 have been identified.
Mr. Bush's arrival in New York briefly halted the massive excavation project in the southwest corner of Manhattan that carried on through pouring rain.
The downpour helped settled the concrete dust that was sending workers to hospital with breathing problems and irritated eyes, but it also weighed down the refuse that was hauled out in five-gallon buckets passed hand-to-hand along a chain of workers.
Hundreds of people lined West Street, the main artery for emergency and excavation vehicles, cheering on the workers with American flags and hand-drawn thank-you signs.
The city said yesterday it would only accept qualified ironworkers as volunteers to work alongside the firefighters from New York and surrounding areas.
The ironworkers were being hoisted to the top of the five-storey ruin to cut through metal girders, which were then removed by crane.
Mr. Juan-Palleija and co-workers Rick Pecora and Jack Pinto spent eight hours in the rubble yesterday. "It's even worse than you could imagine. Until you see it, you can't imagine how bad it really is," Mr. Pecora said as the three recuperated a few blocks from ground zero.
Mr. Pecora said he pulled two bodies out of the wreckage and talked about the awful stench upon finding human remains.
"You know it right away and you'll never forget it," he said. "I got it on my hands and I can't get it off."
The Newark firefighters said they have begun to lose hope that they'll find anyone alive in the site.
"No way anybody could survive that, no way," Mr. Pecora said. "Maybe I'm wrong, I hope so."
Then, as if to convince himself he was wrong, Mr. Pecora added that there are "voids" in the rubble, holes where just maybe, miraculously, someone might survive.
As the would-be rescuers attacked the wreckage, engineers were checking nearby buildings to ensure they had not been structurally damaged to the point that they must be demolished.
"All the ones that are still standing have been examined and we have found them to be structurally sound," said Richard Tomasetti, president of LZA Thorton Tomasetti.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer from New York said the city will use some portion of the $20-billion that Washington has allocated to the city to rebuild on the site of the World Trade Center.
As emergency workers worked in the rubble, families continued their efforts to find their relatives.
Robert Terry, an emergency-room intern, was plastering the area with posters asking for information about his father, who had worked on the top floors of the second tower. He is assuming the worst, but was taping up pictures in hopes that someone will recognize his father's body.