Hopes sink on US day of mourning

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Lightning streaked the night sky and rain pelted rescue workers searching the graveyard of the World Trade Centre today as hopes dimmed for more than 4,700 souls. The gruesome task yielded no survivors overnight.

With hundreds of family members searching for any sign of their loved ones, President George Bush was to visit New York today to "hug and cry" with its shaken citizens.

Nearly three days after the trade Centre was hit and destroyed by two hijacked passenger planes, rescue efforts were hampered early today by a brief burst of heavy rain and lightning. Workers donned orange rain jackets and plastic bags and stuck to their task.

Tens of thousands of residents still could not return to their homes in a closed-off lower Manhattan. Nerves were frayed by bomb scares and false alarms, both in New York and in Washington.

Even a small semblance of normalcy was yanked away: Airline flights at the New York area's three busy airports began for the first time since Tuesday but were abruptly halted.

A man was arrested at Kennedy airport after trying to slip past security with a false pilot's identification, and at least five others were detained at city airports.

The arrested man and three of the detained had tried to board separate flights to California yesterday.

The city also brought in 30,000 body bags for pieces of human remains.

"Even scary movies do not happen like this," said Enver Kesti, 42, a pizza chef who returned to clean up a gourmet shop that once sat in the towers' shadows.

Bush declared Friday a "national day of prayer and remembrance." He asked Americans to spend their lunch breaks taking part in services at their chosen places of worship, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

The president praised New Yorkers for showing "the compassion of America and the bravery of America."

New York was not alone in counting its missing and dead. The Pentagon said 126 people in the building were killed in the plane attack. Seventy bodies had been recovered.

Add the 4,763 missing reported by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, plus the 266 passengers and crew members who died aboard the planes that hit the trade Centre, the Pentagon and a field southeast of Pittsburgh, and the total dead in Tuesday's carnage could be more than 5,000.

That would be higher than the death toll from Pearl Harbour and the Titanic combined. A total of 2,390 Americans died at Pearl Harbour nearly 60 years ago, and the sinking of the Titanic claimed 1,500 lives.

Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said at the Pentagon that the US response to the attacks that wrought these horrors would "unfold over time."

"One thing that is clear is you don't do it with just a single military strike, no matter how dramatic," Wolfowitz said.

In Congress, a bipartisan coalition worked on approving two measures: an emergency anti-terrorism package that could cost 20 billion (£14 billion), and support for the use of force by Bush against those responsible.

Up to 50 people were involved in the attack, the Justice Department said, with at least four hijackers trained at US flight schools. Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden remained the top suspect.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said authorities had "thousands and thousands" of leads. He said they had determined that 18 hijackers were on the planes: groups of five on two planes and groups of four on the others.

In New York, the difficulties of extracting bodies from the rubble meant that while 184 deaths had been confirmed, city officials prepared to watch the total soar. The missing included nearly 400 city firefighters and police officers. Another 2,300 people were injured.

The lone bit of bright news was the recovery of two firefighters who slipped into an underground pocket beneath the rubble while searching for survivors on Thursday. The two radioed for help and were rescued by fellow firefighters several hours after they fell.

At One Liberty Plaza, an office building near the trade Centre site, volunteers were evacuated when the top 10 stories of the complex appeared unsteady. Workers fled, sprinting down the street.

At a grief Centre set up for families with missing relatives, Jeanine Nardone arrived to look for her brother. She had hung his photo in a Brooklyn subway station, hoping someone would recognize Mario Nardone - a 32-year-old from Staten Island, bald with blue eyes, who worked on the 83rd floor of Two World Trade Centre.

"He's a strong person," Nardone said. "He would not give up on us. And I'm not going to give up on him."

Many family members stopped by the armoury-turned-counselling Centre established by the city. Looking south from there, the seemingly endless plume of acrid, white smoke from the wreckage still corkscrewed above the Manhattan skyline.

At Bellevue Hospital, a blue wall erected around a construction site was covered with pictures and descriptions of the missing, and prayers for safe returns.

New Yorkers did take some small steps toward normal life. While everything south of 14th Street remained closed, the northern part of Manhattan became busier. Office buildings reopened, restaurants put out pavement tables and hawkers handed out flyers. Traffic on the streets and subways was up sharply compared to Wednesday.

The government gave the go-ahead for commercial flights to resume and some did, but schedules were expected to be in disarray, and heavy security was the rule.

Bond trading resumed, while Wall Street officials said the stock markets were expected to open again on Monday. The shutdown on the New York Stock Exchange was already longer than the two-day closure at the end of World War II; the next-longest lasted a week, after the 1929 crash.

But the National Football League called off the 15 games scheduled for this weekend, and all Division I-A college football games also were postponed. Major-league baseball extended its hiatus through the weekend.

In Washington, the Senate was evacuated because of a bomb scare, and officials disclosed that Vice President Dick Cheney moved to Camp David in what his spokeswoman called "a purely precautionary measure."

"From a security standpoint, this is not business-as-usual any more," said press secretary Juleanna Glover.

New Yorkers also remained edgy. On Staten Island, parents pulled children off school buses after a report that a car possibly linked to the terrorists had driven into the borough. At LaGuardia Airport, passengers were briefly evacuated from the just-reopened facility after a man said something about a device in a bag. Buildings around Manhattan were evacuated as authorities erred on the side of caution.

"Right now, a lot of people are panicking," said Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. "And they really have to be as cautious as possible."