Tags: Empty | Stretcher | Honors | the | 1 | 700 | Missing

Empty Stretcher Honors the 1,700 Missing at World Trade Center

Thursday, 30 May 2002 12:00 AM

Just as had been done for the other bodies recovered from the site over the past eight and one-half months, the American flag-shrouded stretcher was loaded into an ambulance, as hundreds of workers silently lined the ramp out of the site to pay tribute to those who remain unfound or unidentified.

At 10:29 a.m., a bell was rung in four sets of five rings each, the New York Fire Department signal for a slain firefighter, to honor the 343 firefighters who died in the worst terror attack in the nation's history.

The event, which left thousands of spectators emotional, signaled the close of the rescue and recovery phase of the effort to clean, repair and rebuild the 16-acre site that is the most visible scar on lower Manhattan. The attacks left more than 2,800 people dead after both towers were struck by planes, ripped by jet-fuel-powered infernos, and collapsed within 90 minutes of the first impact.

After the stretcher left the ramp, New York City police and firemen playing bagpipes preceded a truck hauling a 30-foot steel beam, part of the south tower, the last major piece of the huge complex removed by cleanup workers. The beam has come to be a symbol, for workers and the city alike, of the thousands who died last fall – with references to the building itself and the efforts of the rescuers, an intact memorial in a place where little survived.

Although wrapped in a black funeral shroud and covered with a flag and a circle of white flowers, Beam 1001B had been inscribed with the names of victims, rescue workers, fire companies and other reminders of the tragedy and courage witnessed in the ruins of one of New York's most recognizable symbols.

The beam was hauled up the West Side Highway, the main access point to the site, to a Port Authority hanger at JFK airport several miles away. The beam will likely be included in the formal memorial, which is still in the planning stages.

Thousands of spectators, rescue workers and relatives of the victims watched over the grim procession, as did former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who gained worldwide fame for his leading role after the terrorist attack; his successor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Gov. George Pataki; and other state and local figures.

The ceremony began at 10:29 a.m., marking the collapse of the South Tower, after Muslim terrorists rammed two airliners into the towers' upper levels. Television caught the shuddering collapse of steel, aluminum, concrete and glass, which reminded some of a fountain suddenly turned off.

The processions were accompanied by firefighters in formal and working dress and Port Authority and New York City police, all of whom suffered severe losses in the disaster.

The cortege marched slowly toward the West Side Highway and north to Canal Street, the upper level of the area most affected by the disaster. Even the close of the site revealed lingering tensions between self-styled victims' advocates and city management over how to manage the recovery. Some survivors of victims have accused the city of hastening recovery and cleanup at the expense of identifying the missing and honoring the dead.

Several families had asked Bloomberg not to hold the ceremony on a weekday, but the mayor said it was better to avoid conflicts with religious services. He also noted that May 30 is the traditional Memorial Day holiday. Even with that argument, hundreds of families are expected to attend a religious service Sunday at the site.

One family member, who expressed a general approval of the handling of the site and asked her name not be used, said many families were insulted by the sense of urgency used to clean the site of debris, considering how many bodies have not been recovered.

"I understand the need of economics, but this place is all most of us have left of our loved ones," she said.

The city has insisted that forensics investigators continue to search the rubble, which has been shifted to a landfill in Staten Island, and hope to use technology to identify victims in the future.

Rescue and cleanup efforts began shortly after the first of two hijacked jetliners rammed into the twin towers on Sept. 11. Four aircraft were hijacked early Sept. 11. Two were steered into the World Trade Center towers and a third slammed into the Pentagon just outside Washington. The fourth plane crashed in western Pennsylvania, apparently when passengers tried to take back control of the craft.

Nineteen members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorists carried out the hijackings. As a result, the United States began its war on terrorism with Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, ousting the ruling Taliban, which had given bin Laden refuge. Bin Laden and much of al-Qaeda's terrorist leadership, however, remain at large.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Just as had been done for the other bodies recovered from the site over the past eight and one-half months, the American flag-shrouded stretcher was loaded into an ambulance, as hundreds of workers silently lined the ramp out of the site to pay tribute to those who remain...
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Thursday, 30 May 2002 12:00 AM
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