Charlie Cappello | September 25, 2001
I know that everyone in the country wants to know what is going on here, so I decided to send you an ongoing chronicle to let you share in the effort underway here in NY. If you think anyone else would be interested in this, please feel free to forward it on.
Yesterday, 24 September 2001 was my first day onsite. Thirteen days since the attack. It is not what I had expected.
Chris Dixon, a Bechtel guy working on the East Access Project has been coordinating our work. I met him and another new guy, Terry Crabtree, first thing. We then went to lower Manhattan to meet two other guys working day shift for us (Bechtel).
There is no civilian traffic, including mass transit, within four or five blocks of the perimeter of the restricted work area. We took the subway to Franklin Station and then walked to the Command Center at West Broadway and Chambers. The smell and haze of smoke is still very heavy. Lots of agencies are working out of this facility, which is still several blocks outside the restricted work area — Ground Hero, including the agency that is directing the demolition of the site. This is The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) and we work for them. Once inside we met Dan Louis and Alan Todd. Terry and I spent the day shadowing them. After being fitted with respirators, we headed in.
Both the NYPD and the National Guard secure the perimeter. Although we had all required access ID, we had a hard time getting in. Curiously annoying and reassuring at the same time. In spite of the security throughout the day, we often saw people who obviously had no business in the area dressed in civvies, shorts, etc. We later discovered they were family members coming to get closure. A strange feeling that knowledge gives you. Once inside there is a sight. In overview: the WTC complex, not counting the World Financial Center and other peripheral buildings, consisted of 7 buildings. The towers WTC 1 & 2, building 3 and 7 are totally collapsed.
Building 4, 5 and 6 are gutting by fire and damaged be the collapse of the other buildings. Other buildings for at least two blocks in all directions are damaged to varying degrees. These building are having their exteriors netted to prevent glass and facades that comes loose, from falling away from them.
Entering the north end, along Barclay St. you see WTC 7. It is just a pile of rubble. Since that building was effectively evacuated before it collapsed, there is no rescue or recovery work going on there. Heavy equipment, excavators with hydraulic clamshells, are simply pulling the pile (which is the only way to describe it) down and loading it on a long line of sanitation department trucks.
Heading down the east side, along Church Street you have WTC 4 & 5. Both are still standing, but both are gutted by fire, with #5 still smoldering quite severely. Water is still applied regularly. They are also partially collapsed and severely damaged by the collapse of WTC 1 & 2. Between the WTC 4 & 5 is, or was, a plaza. A large crane is set up there and after walking onto the plaza a very sobering sight awaits. From the plaza, you look out over the huge pile of rubble that was WTC 1 & 2. In the rubble, still working by hand, are Search and Rescue (S&R) Teams. The crane feeds them dumpsters and pulls what material they can feed it. But they are clearly working in this area looking for fallen comrades… and they are so very dedicated and relentless and – hopeful. One team will be working (10-15 people) with a dog or two. Waiting in the plaza is the next team waiting to relieve them and right behind them is another. The work is not feverish, but steady and professional. The tone, much to my surprise is not grim, but rather dominated by comradery, not the kind you would find among athletes, but more like what you would find among neighbors rebuilding the a barn of one of their number.
Heading further south is Liberty Street. It borders the south side of WTC 2 & 5. The rubble pile at the SE corner, behind WTC 5 is being attacked much like WTC 7. Using heavy equipment, a lot of progress is being made.
Heading west, the situation changes. A large finger of the WTC 2 facade stands about 20 stories tall (you have seen picture of it). On either side of that facade are huge piles of debris from the tower. Because of the facade is still standing, no rescue or recovery has yet been attempted in this area.
Across Liberty Street, in the Bankers Trust Building a huge piece of the WTC facade sliced right though the building and is now hanging out of the building about 15 stories above the sidewalk, thus closing access all around that side of the building.
Heading up the west side the remains of WTC 1 & 2 lay in smoldering piles. Piles about 8 stories tall. No work is being done to WTC 2 but a heavy equipment has started removing the debris from WTC 1, in spite of the fact that it is visibly smoldering and still on fire within. On the corner is WTC 6. Just like WTC 4 & 5, it is charred by fire and scarred by pieces of the towers falling all around and over it.
Across, the street is the damaged World Financial Centers (WFC) 1 though 3. WTC 1 is southern most and least damaged. WFC 2 & 3 have been riddled by the debris from WTC 1 & 2 being blown against the. Windows and facades are seriously damaged, and the Winter Garden between them (it is like a huge glass atrium) is totally destroyed along the one side facing the WTC.
The area has been divided among four NY contractors. They are Turner, Amec, Bovis, and Tully. Tully has about 1/3 of the work, basically the east side of the site including WTC 4 & 5. Bovis has the southeast area including WTC 2 & 3. Amec has WTC 1 & 6. Turner has WTC 7. I am not sure that secondary work in the perimeter areas has been assigned. I think it is just being netted and put on hold for now.
Currently all efforts are under the control of the fire department and will remain so until all S&R efforts complete. I am sure they will maintain a significant presence even then. The fire chiefs are it... the bottom line. And there are more chiefs in NY than Carter has liver pills. They are great guys. Whenever a major activity is planned, they need to buy off on it. That means the contractor has to communicate the plan, structural engineers provided by Thronton-Tomasetti and/or Mueser Rutledge have to approve it along with the DDC. Then it goes to the chief who approves it and then, and most importantly, supports with S&R teams and fire fighters. On the flip side, a chief may want something done to support his efforts. Those requests get top priority. But again, the atmosphere around this is different than anything I have ever been involved with. There is no power plays or turf wars. It is all for a common goal. Because of the number of players, and shifts, the messages can change and that is something we need to improve i.e., shift communication and turnover, but everything works out in the end.
Now our day. We are working most closely with Tully and their demolition sub, CDI. The first thing that came up was a request from the chief on the previous shift to pull down the facade hanging out of the Bankers Trust building and to remove the canopy below. This to allow access to the building and to expand the safe zone below. In conflict with that request, there is an open basement in front of the building with a ruptured 10K gallon diesel tank. After multiple meetings it was decided to tackle the tank first then the building. It was also recognized that if the protruding facade were to fall, it would land in an active thoroughfare. This became painfully clear as while we were standing in front of the building, a file cabinet from about the 20th floor fell out of the building, for no apparent reason. Action to that was amazingly quick. The chiefs immediately mobilized national guards who formed a human barricade until new hard barricades could be established to keep people further from the front of the building.
The next thing that came up was some investigative work. CDI has to demo WTC 4 & 5. Once the S&R is complete in front of the plaza, they also need to get heavy equipment in to remove debris. What they want to do is demo the buildings from the north and south extremes, while simultaneously backing the crane out of the plaza, collapsing the plaza and building an access ramp into the middle of the east side of the site. So we decided we needed to get into the basements below. Naturally, we went to find the chief for that area. He went to research access and came back telling us it was still an FBI crime scene and they did not want us in. Without missing a beat though, he said he would fix that. He did. Shortly he was back and assigned us to a Search and Rescue Team from Miami Florida. With protective gear, respirators and flashlights, we followed them out and onto the rubble and down into the wreckage.
The level of destruction is nothing short of total. There is nothing to betray what this "stuff" once was. There are really only two substances in the rubble. Steel and dust. No furniture, no concrete, no wood… it is all pulverized into dust held in a suspension with twisted steel and light metal.
After climbed through passages in the rubble we came out on the mall level below the plaza. This is where there were stores, Coach, Warner Bros. Chase Bank. Here, with the exception of a few holes through the roof, the area is fairly intact but full of debris that was blown into the mall when the towers collapsed. From there, we went into the levels of basements below. Except for dust and water, they were fairly intact, but very eerie and pitch black. Cars in the parking lots, offices empty. Tunnels leading down and under the collapsed towers, blocked with the hundreds of tons of building that had fallen into them. It was very disorienting and even with plans and drawings, it was verify difficult to orient our location with the streets and plaza above. As we tried to find our way to the last basement we wandered into an the abandoned subway station. Very weird as while it was completely cut-off, it still had power and the lights were on.
In the final basement, we found a security command center, looking like the bridge from the enterprise. We also found a huge, and open bank vault. Obviously, the police had been there ahead of us, helping to secure and empty the vault.
All this time the S&R team supported our desire to go anywhere. They staged people all along our path to maintain communication all the way out, as the forward radios could not communicate directly with the surface. Another great bunch of people. The team, of both men and women, were the ultimate professionals, planning and adjusting their plan as we wandered throughout trying to understand what we were seeing and where we were. It reminded me of a planning a night dive, but into a place where no one had been before.
With that data, plans for the ramp are now under development. The basic plan is to collapse the plaza, the good news being that there are only three levels about 60 feet deep. Then we will fill with rubble about half way up and bridge that with clean fill. At the same time, the eastern most wall of the basement must be braced as subway tunnels exist just beyond the walls.
That moving forward a chief came to us wanting access to the rubble around WTC 2. That was the first tower to fall, but it has been not accessed because the remaining structure still looms ominously overhead. There is a general belief that there are many souls in that area, and the great respect for those remains will result in a prolonged recovery effort that can not start until the structure is removed. Again meetings and a plan to clear the area south of it, which involves relocating a lot of equipment, and then pulling it down. That should happen Tuesday, as they will place the lines Monday night.
The support systems are unbelievable. In the abandoned store fronts on Liberty Street there are lunch rooms with anything and everything you could want to eat or drink. There is a triage center for first aid and personal protective supplies. Volunteer chiropractors have adjustment tables on the sidewalks for those who need them. Masseuses have tables to help with the stress and strains. Then there is the wall, with pictures of the missing… so hard to look at.
These facilities border the site on all sides. There is also a local cruise liner docked just outside the area that has food, beds, massages etc. This is also where you find celebrities doing their part. Signing autographs and thanking the workers. Olivia Newton John and Brook Shields were there when I had lunch.
As the shifts end, people straggle out of the zone. Bedraggled and exhausted, they hug their comrades goodbye for the day and head out. Even the dogs are spent as I watched one two tired to do more then place has front legs in a panel truck he was gently lifted in by his handler. And as you leave you meet more volunteers willing do anything. Even down to washing your boots as you leave the area. Everyone wants to help… willing and to do things they would never even consider in saner times.