At Ground Zero, as the area around the sight of the World Trade Center disaster came to be known, firemen dug with their hands, searching for any sign of life. There were one and a half million tons of ruins and nearly 3,000 people inside. "It's just incredible, indescribable," and exhausted fireman told me. "We are standing on the roof of the building and as we're digging out, all you see is the tops of fire engines and cars, there's stuff and people everywhere."
"Everybody's working together," another fireman said, "piece by piece, hand by hand. The whole city is trying to get people out."
Volunteers marched in off the street, including retired firemen, ironworkers, nurses and tourists. They set up bucket brigades to move the wreckage, hand over hand, a few pounds at a time. In the first hours, I saw a great deal of hope. Rescuers climbed the mountain of debris expecting miracles. Fred Clark, a carpenter who helped build the World Trade Center in 1969, was back to take it apart. "What I see now is heartbreaking, but I'm hopeful," he told me. "I'm here to find somebody still alive."
There was one miracle. Nearly a day after the attack, John McLoughlin, a Port Authority police office, was pulled out alive. "I was here when they pulled out the police officer," Dr. Tony Dajer, of New York University Hospital, told me. "He was in very good shape actually." But Officer McLoughlin would the last amazing story of survival.
Ambulances rushed in, but did not rush out. Dr. Lincoln Cleveland, also with New York University Hospital, stood amid the devastation with no one to save. "You can read a couple of things into that," he told me. "Either people are buried and they're going to start bringing bodies out, or just everybody died." No one was found after the first twenty-four hours.
But for me, what I'll never forget is the faces of the lost that looked from photographs plastered onto parked cars, lampposts and mailboxes throughout the city. Families posted thousands of missing-persons fliers. One man walked up to me holding up the picture of his best friend in the hope that a passerby might recognize the face. "He has a two-and-a-half-year old daughter. He's the godfather of my children," he said. "Have you seen him in there?" For the most part, the pleas of these families would never be answered.