9/11/01: Death count expected to rise

Firefighters make their way through the rubble on

Firefighters make their way through the rubble on Sept. 11, 2001, after terrorists crashed two hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center in a deadly series of blows that brought down the twin 110-story towers in Manhattan. (Credit: AP)

America went to bed last night with little idea of how many people lost their lives in yesterday's horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. At midnight, at least six people, their crushed bodies covered in blood-stained sheets, had been pulled from the rubble, with five others confirmed dead by St. Vincents and Bellevue hospitals.

The bodies of up to 18 others were put in body bags and placed in the lobby of a nearby building, according to a witness in one report.

Until rescue workers can enter the towers, a grim task not expected to take place until today, authorities said they have no way of knowing how many of the 50,000 people who work at the massive complex were killed.

But a police sergeant involved in trying to recover bodies last night said, "There are bodies everywhere."

"Hopefully, they'll find some people alive down there," Sgt. Ralph Low said, "but right now it looks like a recovery job. They're trapped under tons and tons of rubble. There's not much hope."

The weight of the debris continued to hamper rescue efforts. Heavy equipment was brought in, but rescue workers still had to use a welding machine and a crane to carefully remove each body.

Doctors at the scene said they didn't see many low-level casualties; many of those caught in the blast either were killed or escaped unscathed.

Dr. Soumi Cachempati of New York Presbyterian Hospital, who spent the day tending to the wounded at the scene, called it "very, very, very unlikely" that many people survived.

"The problem is that anyone on the lower floors would have had 50 floors fall on them, and anyone on the top floors would have fallen 50 floors," he said.

Still, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said last night he believes there are people alive, trapped in buildings near the towers.

A police source said phone calls from people claiming to be in the rubble had been placed to 911. One caller, a civilian, said he was trapped with a police officer who is among those confirmed to be missing.

It was not clear how many police officers and firefighters lost their lives. At a briefing late last night, authorities said as many as 300 firefighters and 32 or 33 police officers - many of whom were among the first responding - still were unaccounted for.

Among those confirmed dead by Fire Commissioner Tom von Essen were four top fire officials, including the Rev. Mychal Judge, a fire chaplain who less than two weeks ago said Mass for a firefighter killed on Staten Island.

Rescue workers said two police officers had been pulled alive from the rubble, but there were fears that most of the day shift from the First Precinct and upwards of 30 firefighters in the city's five elite companies had been lost.

Sources also said that several FBI agents were missing and that the Secret Service "lost quite a few agents."

Meanwhile, a makeshift morgue on a West Side pier remained eerily empty, its American flag flying at half staff and workers there waiting in grim anticipation for what is expected to be a body count never before seen on American soil.

At Bellevue Hospital Center, the morgue workers, whose everyday routine is death on a much smaller scale, braced for the inevitable.

"It's a catastrophe of unparalleled proportions," Bellevue medical director Eric Manheimer said.

Authorities said at least 2,100 people had been injured, including 150 who were critically wounded. About 1,500 of the wounded were treated at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Many of the injured treated there and in Manhattan, at numerous hospitals or one of two triage sites set up in lower Manhattan, suffered less serious injuries.

At ground zero, Dr. Vincent Jarvis bought $100 worth of supplies from a pharmacy, ran to the scene, helped treat at least 150 firefighters for eye injuries - then waited for hours for survivors who never came. "It was quite a sad commentary," said Jarvis, who works at Lutheran Medical Center in Sunset Park. "Nobody came."

Everyday New Yorkers, meanwhile, were doing whatever they could to make a difference. At Lafayette and Worth streets, a group of construction workers, on police orders, broke into a construction site and, with the help of 100 volunteers, slapped together 600 makeshift stretchers for body removal.

"This is all about helping people," said one worker, Brendan Sullivan, of Flushing. "It's about helping New Yorkers."

Those wanting to give blood raced to the New York Blood Center, where the process was all too familiar for one man.

"It's the same feeling as when a suicide bomber attacks Israel," said Roy Lemkin, 36, who moved here from Israel 11 years ago. "This feels like war."

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