Rescuers despair amid grisly finds

The Search
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The Independent US

Hardened firefighters, helped by construction workers, search teams and volunteers, are facing the most horrific assignment of their lives.

Many victims ­ including some of the hijackers ­ will never be identified. For those involved in the search, a sense of despair appears to be setting in at the disaster site, which has come to be known as "ground zero" by the public, and "the pile" among workers.

Among the gruesome finds have been a pair of hands bound together ­ presumably from an aircraft hijack victim ­ and the torso of a Port Authority police officer, only identified by the radio still hanging from his belt.

There are also claims that the passport of one of the hijackers has been pulled from the carnage. Barry Mawn, the FBI Assistant Director, did not reveal the name on the passport but said it had been found two blocks from the towers

There are also reports of scores of rats coming out of the sewers and running among the rubble, making the grim area increasingly unhygienic and even more depressing.

The hope that has lived inside all those on the scene is turning into deadened professionalism. Ed Kester, a firefighter from Engine Company 313 in Queens, said that when searchers found personal items, their hearts quickened with the hope that a living person might be near by.

"It gives a hint ­ like eyeglasses, pocketbooks, Palm Pilots," Mr Kester said. "If we find stuff, we bring dogs in to sniff around. It is a let-down. The dogs don't pick up on anyone."

Thomas von Essen, New York's Fire Commissioner, knows the focus and atmosphere is changing. On Saturday, he said: "Each day, we will re-evaluate and decide when this rescue becomes a recovery."

The rubble and twisted steel from the towers were compacted mainly below ground level, he said. "My guys describe it to me as a crater, almost like a volcano that drives down at least seven storeys," he said. "They are doing the best they can to try to penetrate it. This is very difficult, unbelievably dangerous work."

Of the estimated 450,000 tons of debris from the towers and other destroyed or damaged structures, workers had shifted about 22,000 tons ­ 2,047 truckloads by the weekend.

Bulldozers, trucks and police vans clogged the streets while workers feverishly try to restore gas, electricity and communications by today.

But the grim truth is there are no more survivors coming out, as forensic scientists start to compare genetic material from the remains with samples, such as those taken from hairbrushes toothbrushes or clothing, provided by relatives. Charles Hirsch, the city's chief medical examiner, said: "It will be the most likely identification means in this disaster."

This is going to be a long, hellish job. A total of 5,097 are now listed as missing. Another 180 are confirmed dead, of whom 115 have been identified.