Frozen In Time

Work Winds Down At World Trade Center Site

Work at the World Trade Center site, the gaping hole in New York City's downtown that has come to be known as Ground Zero, has been going on for 233 days. In all that time, work has not stopped for even one hour.

The men and women who have lifted 1.5 million tons of ruins will soon be getting down to the ounces in a site that covers 16 acres and cuts 70 feet deep.

Searchers now stand on timbers laid out on the bedrock of Manhattan, Correspondent Scott Pelley reports. Front loaders are shaking out the last of what was once a mountain of misery.

But even here, joy surfaces.

"I seen some signs of, in a way, joy or happiness when we do recover people, because of what it means to the families," says Dan Henry a Port Authority officer among the 800 people who search the ruins every day.

The debris collected is shipped across the Hudson to a landfill on Staten Island where yet another search takes place. You might expect to find, phones, computers, desks and files and other office furnishings, but that's not happening here. Most of the debris is mud and rock with only the occasional recognizable item, such as a frequent flier card or office keys.

Richard Marx of the FBI, who helps to run the landfill operation, calls them "little pieces of daily life."

"You see people's appointment books, people's brief cases - damaged - some you'll never be able to identify, because they don't have a name," he says. "But every little thing, it's life interrupted. It's just bits and pieces of people's lives."

Bruce Bovino of the New York Police Department remembers the wedding invitations: "This struck home, because in all that field of debris, of mess out there, there were these pure white wedding invitations."

In the more than a million tons of debris, they have recovered about 600 pieces of jewelry. "An entire building…destroyed, crushed and how a diamond engagement ring, a wedding ring, survives, I, I just feel it's just meant to be found," Bovino says.

The NYPD'S Joe Hodge explains how earlier in the day he had found a woman's engagement ring: "I just saw a purse come by, it was pretty damaged, it was soaking wet, covered with mud, opened it up, there happened to be a small change purse inside. I just wanted to make sure there was nothing there, opened that up, found some loose change and, what I thought was an earring. Turned out to be a ring."

They are also finding the victims. More than 100 people have been identified at the landfill, and families call there nearly every day.

One woman called, and was angry because the searchers who had found her husband's ID couldn't find his body.

"The reality is that not everyone is gonna be found. And that is a very hard, horrible reality. Some people just won't be found," says Jim Luongo of the NYPD.

About 2,000 people, two-thirds of those lost, have not yet been identified, and that thought weighs on searchers as the recovery operation winds down.

Some families prefer it that way.

"If he's identified at this point, it would be through DNA, " says Dee Raguso, whose son, Firefighter Michael Raguso, has not been seen since his unit responded to the WTC site on Sept. 11. "And instead of wondering what happened to him, I would know for a fact that he was blown to bits and as a mother that's very hurtful."

So far, searchers have found more than 19,000 body parts. The medical examiner is trying to match them to DNA samples. Families have the option of being notified once, at the end, or being told every time there is a match.

Nicole Petrocelli has been notified four times about recoveries of her husband, Mark, a commodities broker who had just received a promotion that put him in Tower One. His remains were first identified the day after his memorial.

"I choose to know every time," Nicole says. "I feel like if he was sick and he was dying, I would have taken care of him. So this is the way I can take care of him. And when he's identified, I want to know and I want to take him home."

The identification process will continue for months at the medical examiner's office, she says, urging other families not to give up hope.

"I never give up hope that I'll get his wedding band back, that I so desperately want or that I'll get another phone call about some other remains," she says. "A couple of weeks ago, I got a phone call that they found his heart. And I never imagined that his heart would be picked up off the ground in the middle of fire and rubble."

Already, the first steps at rebuilding the site has been started. One of the first things to be rebuilt is the tunnel that carried more than 60,000 commuters a day from New Jersey to the station under the towers. The first train is scheduled for late 2003.

"We are saying to the world that we have survived," says Port Authority engineer Louis Menno, who watched the towers being built and was WTC general manager on Sept. 11. "This is going to be our finest hour, and this will be the beginning of the rebuilding of downtown New York City."

The debate will go on for months about what will be built above ground. Some people want all 16 acres used for a memorial; others want the towers back. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a powerful force on the committee that will decide how the site is rebuilt, expects neither will happen.

"Economics do not permit" construction of new towers, he says, but he predicts that it three years, new buildings will be rising on the site. He understands the urge to cover up the painful scar on the city's landscape but he cautions patience.

"That's what our job is," he says, "to not succumb to doing something that five years from now will not be suitable."

Because no one yet knows what form a memorial will take, some artifacts are being tagged and kept in storage.

They include landing gear struts and engine parts from the planes that struck the tower and parts of sculptures that adorned the World Trade Center.

Marx, the FBI agent, showed Pelley two life-sized figures salvaged from what had been the top of a bronze gate sculpture by Rodin .

"There was actually three life-sized figures up there," he says. "We have two of 'em here, one of them's crushed, the other one's here.

The sculpture's title: The Gates of Hell.
  • Mary-Jayne McKay

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