British brokers cling to hope despite 700 members of their firm's staff still missing

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As rescue workers battled on with sifting the rubble that was once the World Trade Centre, the companies whose home it was struggled to clarify the human cost.

Concern remained centred on Cantor Fitzgerald, the London inter-dealer broker that had offices near the top of the North Tower, on floors 101, 103, 104 and 105. Last night, the firm was fearing the worst for the 700 staff members still missing out of 1,000 who worked there. Many of those unaccounted for are British.

The London office was hopeful. "We have the number of 300 survivors, but we are still getting calls," a spokesman said. Among those who are safe is Howard Lutnick, the chairman, who was taking his child to school when the plane hit. His brother Gary, who worked in the bond division, is on the list of those missing. Mr Lutnick said: "We will not give up hope that additional employees will be discovered or rescued."

Cantor's offices included the staff of eSpeed, its online trading platform for government bonds. Its employees were among those reported to have sought refuge on the roof of the North Tower in the hope of being rescued by helicopter.

Cantor Fitzgerald's staff took the devastation at its main New York offices particularly badly because the firm was one of the few key Wall Street players that had remained a family organisation. The company is a private partnership and calls heavily on existing employees' friends and family for new recruits. Peter DaPuzzo, the co-president of institutional equities, said yesterday: "We'd talk all day over the phone system from our offices. I'm suffering. I feel like my heart's been ripped out."

Cantor Fitzgerald's position in the world bond market is regarded as critical. It is the world's dominant bond broker, acting for the biggest brokerage companies in the US, including Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers. The firm is talking to the Federal Reserve and a variety of Wall Street banks about establishing a billion-dollar line of credit to help it re-establish trading from next week.

Cantor was only one of more than a dozen finance companies with strong links to Britain. Risk Waters, a British-based financial publishing group, had been scheduled to hold a two-day conference on the 106th floor of the North Tower. It started at 8:30am on Tuesday morning, just 15 minutes before the first impact. Of 237 people due to attend the financial technology conference, 137 were unaccounted for yesterday. This included 74 delegates. A spokesman for Risk Waters said: "We have held conferences there in the past and were scheduled to have conferences there in the future." He added that the group had managed to ascertain that some of those registered had not turned up. The bulk of the delegates were from the US, although some were from Britain and Japan, the company said.

Marsh, a risk and insurance business that is part of the MMC group of companies, was still looking for 600 of its 1,700 employees working on seven floors of the North Tower. The company said that, as of yesterday morning, it could confirm that 1,100 employees were safe, up from 500 on Wednesday.

Like most of the companies based in or around the World Trade Centre, MMC's website now has an emotional message from its chairman, and it keeps family and friends up to date as survivors make contact.

Regus was another British company devastated. The firm, which runs fully serviced business centres for other companies to use, had offices across the 93rd floor of the South Tower. A spokesman said: "We're very distressed to say that we have five staff members unaccounted for, as well as an unknown number of clients." He did not specify which companies were based in their centres, but added "they were mainly from the financial sector".

It is understood that Morgan Stanley, the largest corporate tenant with 25 floors in the South Tower, could account for all but 50 of its 3,654 staff. The

ICAP, a London-based broker formerly known as Garban Intercapital, was still hoping that the "small number of staff" missing out of its 675 employees would still be found.

American Express, which employed 3,000 people at the World Financial Centre, across from the complex, was unclear yesterday how many were missing. A spokesman said: "Our main difficulty is that the phone lines are not working well in New York just now."