As hopes fade of finding survivors, New York orders 11,000 body bags

The Rescue
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The Independent US

New York City ordered 11,000 body bags as the grim rescue task continued throughout the night, hampered by violent electrical storms.

The Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, told reporters that a total of 4,763 people had been put on the city's missing persons list after the kamikaze levelling of the twin towers by two commercial jets on Tuesday. That number could still rise as the city, as well as commercial enterprises that used to have offices in the towers, continued in their efforts to assess just how many people were still inside when they collapsed less than two hours after the strikes. Rescuers, meanwhile, reported finding more bodies in the tangle of wreckage as well as scores of severed body parts and other organs.

The situation was "horrible and gruesome," the Mayor said at a press conference at the New York Armoury, adding: "I'm sorry that I have to describe it that way, but that's unfortunately the situation that we're facing."

Only two people were pulled alive from the rubble yesterday, but none through the grim overnight hours today. The two who were rescued were firefighters who had been searching the debris at the World Trade Centre before becoming trapped in an air pocket for several hours. Five people had been freed from the wreckage the day before.

The official death toll by early afternoon had risen to 94, far below where it will end up.

A morgue set up in a Brooks Brothers clothing store received remains bodies at a rate of a limb at a time. Other bodies and parts of bodies were being driven north in refrigerated grocery lorries to the city's main morgue on First Avenue and 27th Street. On their journey they passed Bellevue Hospital, where so many relatives have been gathering for news of missing loved ones.

The Mayor revealed that several hours had elapsed since rescuers had received any more messages via cellphones from people apparently alive under the debris. He said that that did not mean anyone was giving up on finding more people alive, with the use of heat sensors, camera-equipped remote-control robot vehicles and dogs.

"We've have indications from the dogs that we use to try to spot people, we've had indications that there are people," Mr Giuliani said. "We've followed those up, and in some cases that's not correct, but we're going to continue to do that. We're still hopeful we can find people."

The firefighters were apparently found sitting patiently in a Chevrolet Suburban. Construction workers drafted to remove rubble saw metal yesterday morning and quickly surmised that it was the roof of a car.

Moving the rubble remains one of the largest challenges. Convoys of dump trucks were heading north out of the rescue area weighed down with concrete and steel, and other loads were being taken out of the area on barges on the Hudson river.

The rubble was taken to an old rubbish dump on Staten Island, where the FBI and other investigators searched for evidence, hoping to find the two planes' black box flight recorders, which might reveal clues to what happened in the final terrifying minutes before the crashes.

Officials with the federal government indicated that roughly 450,000 tons of debris would have to be cleared from the site of the towers, as well as another 15,000 tons from a third building that collapsed. The densely packed bottom tip of the island, an area of roughly five square miles, remained off-limits to everyone but emergency workers, at the orders of the Mayor.

Among the companies that were trying to finalise an inventory of employees who are either safe or missing is the stock trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald. Its offices were located on one of the highest floors of one of the towers. It said that of its 1,000 employees at the World Trade Centre, roughly 700 were still unaccounted for.

"The company's chief executive Howard Lutnick, yesterday gave a emotional account of his narrow escape from the disaster.

"I didn't go in early that morning," a tearful Mr Lutnick told ABC Television. "My little boy ... it was his first day of kindergarten. ... I took him for the first day of big boy school and because of that I was late to the office."

Mr Lutnick said he was on the way into the building when all hell broke loose. He stood by the door grabbing people and asking them to call out their floor numbers as they ran out. Ninety-one was the highest number he heard before the other tower collapsed.

People were screaming and running out of the building and he saw the second tower collapse above him. "I turned around and ran. I was standing underneath the building like an idiot. I touched my eye. I couldn't see my hand. I could feel the particles in the air ... I was just standing there thinking that I can't believe it. .... Four hours I walked. I just walked."

Mr Lutnick said he spoke with two employees who were badly burnt and in critical condition and that he was praying for them "to pull through and be strong". Cantor employees in Los Angeles and London were on conference calls with employees in New York at the time of the attack and listened in horror as people screamed before lines went dead. "They couldn't go down, they couldn't go up," he said.

The disaster had permanently changed him. "My view of business is different. I need to try to be successful in business so I can take care of ... 700 families who are dreaming to find someone. ... I have a different kind of drive. It's not about my family. I can kiss my kids tonight. But other people won't get to kiss their kids."

To that end, Mr Lutnick posted his home telephone number on his company website and has been taking calls from relatives of his employees. "Women are calling me ... they don't know how to pay their mortgage and they don't know what they're going to do."

New Yorkers arriving at the Armoury yesterday were given seven-page forms on which to fill in all the personal information about the people concerned. Grief counsellors were also on hand.

Smoke continued to billow up from the rescue site yesterday. It had been travelling north through Manhattan over the previous 24 hours, leaving a distinctive burning smell as far away as Central Park.