Officially, 4,763 are missing - but the toll could rise to 20,000

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The Independent US

The ghastly toll of terrorism came into focus Thursday, as the Mayor of New York said 4,763 people had been reported missing in the devastation of the World Trade Centre.

"It could turn out we recover fewer than that; it could be more," said Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, "we don't know the answer." However, there were other, unofficial, estimates that the death toll could rise to as high as 20,000.

The Mayor said the city had some 30,000 body bags available to hold the pieces taken from the rubble, and parts of 70 bodies had been recovered. There were just 94 confirmed dead; 30 or fewer had been identified.

"Let's just say there was a steady stream of body bags coming out all night," said Dr. Todd Wider, a surgeon who was working at a triage center. "That and lots and lots of body parts."

A large section of New York City was sealed off Thursday, with the stock markets to remain closed for the longest stretch since World War II. Work was slowed by hellish bursts of flame and the collapse of the last standing section of one of the towers taken out by twin suicide jets.

The 4,763 missing reported by Mayor Giuliani, added to the deaths in Washington and Pennsylvania when commandeered airliners crashed into the Pentagon and a grassy field southeast of Pittsburgh, would bring the total to around 4,000.

That compares with the 2,390 Americans who died at Pearl Harbor nearly 60 years ago, and the 1,500 dead on the Titanic.

On Wednesday, five people were pulled alive from the Trade Center rubble – three of them police officers.

The New York Times reported that three financial companies with offices in the complex said more than 1,500 workers were unaccounted for.

A thick cloud of acrid, white smoke blew through the streets Wednesday after the four-story fragment of the south tower fell. Gusts of flame occasionally jumped up as debris was removed from the smoldering wreckage.

"The volunteers are literally putting their lives at risk," Mayor Giuliani said.

In New York, the landscape was a haze of gray dust, splayed girders, paper and boulders of broken concrete. Firefighters armed with cameras and listening devices on long poles searched for survivors. German shepherds and golden retrievers clambered over the debris, sniffing.

A mortuary set up in a Brooks Brothers clothing store received remains a limb at a time.

More than 3,000 tons of rubble was taken by boat to a former Staten Island garbage dump, where the FBI and other investigators searched for evidence, hoping to find the planes' black boxes with clues to what happened in the final terrifying minutes before the crashes.

Wall Street and the rest of the nation's financial centre remained closed for a third day , with hopes they may reopen tomorrow. 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 was for a week after the 1929 market crash.

Insurance industry experts say the attack could become the nation's most expensive manmade disaster ever, with payouts ranging from $5 billion to $25bn.

Volunteers emerged from the search-and-rescue mission with grisly tales as they cleared away the twisted steel and glass wreckage of the twin towers. One body was carried out wrapped in an American flag. When workers hung another American flag from a piece of a transmission tower that apparently survived the collapse, "everybody stopped and saluted," said Parish Kelley, a firefighter.

Kelley spent the day working in a crater left by the towers' collapse. As he picked through the rubble, he watched as a man's body – a cell phone still clutched in his hand – was carried out.

"We're looking at a pile of rubble 30 to 40 feet high. Where do you start?" said sheriff's Sgt. Mike Goldberg, accompanying a search-and-rescue dog.

The discovery of a foot and leg and a cockpit seat led to speculation that one of the pilots had been found, Goldberg said.

Among the missing are at least 202 firefighters and possibly up to 350; 154 workers from the Port Authority; 57 New York Police Department and Port Authority police officers; 38 members of a Manhattan management company. Another 150 were unaccounted for at the Pentagon. The four hijacked planes carried 266 passengers and crew.

Also lost was John P. O'Neill, head of security for the World Trade Center and a former FBI expert on terrorism. O'Neill headed the investigations into the bombing of the USS Cole, along with the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.