Hundreds of rescue workers toiled with bulldozers, shovels and ladders at the devastated World Trade Centre in New York yesterday, but hope was dimming that many more survivors would be found alive in the mountains of rubble and twisted metal left by Tuesday's suicideattacks using two hijacked jets.
With all civilians banned from the lower section of Manhattan island, a stream of rescue personnel entered the site of catastrophe in carefully choreographed waves.
Once there, however, they faced dangerous and almost impossible conditions. Several fires were still burning in ruined burnings and there were fears that underground parking garages could prompt more collapses.
All of the numbers regarding injuries and deaths remained deceptive. New York's Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, told reporters mid-morning that 45 bodies had been found. But some of the rescue workers emerging from the site reported seeing scores of bodies. Everyone believes that the final death toll in New York is likely to rise into many thousands.
Meanwhile, there was little solace for those who could not track down loved ones or family members. The Mayor confirmed that only three people had been rescued from the rubble, including one police officer found yesterday morning. Two other police officers were pulled free late on Tuesday.
That meant that at least 202 firefighters and 259 other uniformed city workers were still missing. One fireman was killed on Tuesday after being struck by a victim who had leapt out of one of the towers.
Mr Giuliani said that thousands of workers in the World Trade complex had at least managed to get out of the buildings and scramble to safety before the towers collapsed about an hour after the attack took place on Tuesday morning. But he did not try to hide what the final death count was likely to look like.
"The best estimate that we can make, relying on the Port Authority and just about everyone who has experience with this, is that there will be a few thousand people left in each building," he said. "Our recovery and relief efforts and our work with the medical examiner are premised on those kinds of numbers."
The rescue effort appeared highly organised and very well supported in terms of equipment and human resources – a sharp contrast to the scenes of sheer panic and confusion that characterised lower Manhattan in the hours just after the attacks.
Large quantities of construction gear, including cranes and bulldozers, were entering the disaster zone to move rubble in the hope of uncovering more survivors.
Crews of construction workers, who had volunteered their help, followed behind. "You have to do your share, don't you?" said Connor Higgins, a labourer who had come to join the rescue efforts. Police had sniffer dogs as well as remote-controlled robots with cameras to help in the search for survivors.
"We do believe there are still people alive in the rubble," said George Pataki, the Governor of New York. "We are not giving up hope."
Meanwhile, a pall of smoke and flying ash still hung over the city's financial district and the nearby harbour.
With so many people unaccounted for, businesses tried to locate employees who had worked in the complex, which was the size of a small town with shops, restaurants and government and financial offices. The largest tenant, Morgan Stanley, had 3,500 employees on 25 floors.
The Pentagon, which was struck by a third hijacked plane on Tuesday, was also witness to frantic rescue efforts. Emergency workers said that they were stepping up the search for what could be as many as 800 Defence Department workers killed. More than a dozen bodies had been taken from the rubble by yesterday morning.
The operation at the Pentagon was being hampered by fears that parts of the building remained insecure and could still fall down.
"Obviously in the collapsed areas, [searches] will have to take place at a later time, after we have made the building safe," said Fire Chief Edward Plaugher.
In New York, officials were shipping bodies by ferry across the Hudson River to a makeshift morgue in New Jersey. Additional assistance, including fresh medical supplies and personnel, came with the arrival off the New York coast of the Navy aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington. The European Union said it had other emergency resources on standby for deployment to New York if needed.
A family centre had meanwhile been established outside the Bellevue Hospital, on the east side of Manhattan, several blocks south of the United Nations.
Family members desperate for news of loved ones were urged to visit the centre to see what the authorities knew about their kin.
Mostly, however, the information flow was still in the other direction yesterday, with city workers interviewing members of the public who feared they had lost kin or friends on Tuesday.
Anyone who reported a person missing was asked to fill in forms, describing, for example, what those people had been wearing when they left for work on Tuesday. The answers may help the authorities to identify as many of the dead as possible and to arrive at a rough death toll.
Officials confirmed that they had received calls by cell phone from people trapped under the wreckage. They later suggested, however, that at least some of them had been crank calls.
America's most populous city resembled a ghost town in some neighbourhoods, as commuters stayed home, businesses and schools were shuttered and events were cancelled.
Airports remained closed most of the day and a huge section of downtown Manhattan was closed to all but emergency traffic.Reuse content