- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

NEW YORK — The painful reality is that few people may be alive in the rubble that was once the World Trade Center.

Thousands of workers struggled on yesterday, hoping for a sign to find any person still breathing.

But no more cell-phone calls from survivors trapped under the massive debris were reported.

Across from the decimated buildings was a morgue and more body bags.

Bill Speyer is hoping against hope that his friend, a New York City firefighter, is still drawing breath under the tangled metal and shredded concrete.

"She was one of the first to go in," said Mr. Speyer, a police officer from Orchard Park, N.Y., outside Buffalo. "She went in, came out, went back in, and we haven't heard from her since."

Rescuers — firefighters, construction workers and tradesmen from all over the country — continue their heroic efforts to search for survivors.

But most of the bodies retrieved were placed in orange body bags, carted by a lot of workers who refused to look at the stretchers.

Again yesterday, hopeful rescuers dove into the morass that was once the defining structure of Manhattan's western skyline.

They work delicately in a continuing thick haze of concrete dust.

Vehicles remain on Broadway in front of the World Trade Center and all over the lower part of the island, which is closed off to all but local residents, soldiers, police and rescue workers.

Directly across from the wreckage sat a city bus, Route 20, becoming a convenient blackboard for frustrated and heartbroken workers.

"John Bergen, FDNY," a bearded, weary New York transit worker wrote with his index finger on the dust-caked window.

His brief eulogy was scrawled on what would amount to a makeshift Weeping Wall.

"Capt. Billy Burke E-21, RIP," "RIP Carlos Lilano, Batt 49, FDNY, EMTP," and a simple statement, "The just will live by faith — Micah," also graced the side of the bus.

"I found out that we lost him yesterday," said the man. He said he and his entire department have worked 12-hour days since Tuesday morning, when two hijacked airplanes crashed into the twin, 1,350-foot-tall towers.

"And the whole reason is that you keep thinking you are going to find somebody alive," he said.

Army Reserve Sgt. Frank McCoy is sure there are survivors who are waiting for him.

"There are air pockets, and we can't stop and take away their chance," Sgt. McCoy said.

Rescuers work gingerly, ensuring that debris won't be dropped on anyone still alive.

"We have to do everything we can for these people, these are our fellow human beings," said Eric Reinhold, a Nassau County police officer. "We have to get anybody we can out, even if we have to dig with our hands."

Despite the best rescue efforts, the death toll was suspected to be in the thousands. "My guess is in the five digits," said one city investigator.

More than 4,700 people have been reported missing.

Among them are at least 202 and up to 350 firefighters; 154 workers from the Port Authority; 57 New York Police Department and Port Authority officers; and 38 members of a Manhattan management company.

Rescue workers are aware that people may be trapped in the city's subway and other tunnels under the crash site.

"We pray that some of them scooted even further into the tunnels and hid," said Dave Persaud, a New York sanitation worker. His employees also have worked 12-hour days.

"And they want to work more. We can't let them," he said.

A New York City ironworker, Local 40, said he has been at the site since late Tuesday, sleeping when he can.

His clothes were grubby gray and his attitude was a little darker.

He hasn't seen any bodies; not even parts. He looked across Broadway from the step of One Liberty Plaza at the once proud site.

"You know, a lot of our fathers helped build these towers," he said. "Here it is, blown up and on top of a bunch of people."

As if that weren't enough, the very steps he was standing on became a panic scene around 1:30 p.m., when One Liberty Plaza began creaking.

Soon after the mass exodus from Broadway and Liberty Street, the top floors of One Liberty Plaza collapsed.

Windows began blowing out. And everybody ran, the empty streets filling with thousands of soldiers and police officers.

The 54-story office tower is tilting — for now. The immediate area remains off-limits to everyone.

The rescue workers, however, likely will be back today for another round of searching.

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