New York City begins massive rescue effort as volunteers seek to help

NEW YORK (AP) - As night fell, the city moved past the nightmarish scenes of people on fire jumping from buildings and braced itself for more pain: picking through the rubble for the dead and the injured.

Crews began heading into ground zero of the terrorist attack to search for survivors and recover bodies. The downtown area was cordoned off and a huge, grisly rescue effort was under way. Gov. George Pataki mobilized the National Guard to help, and hundreds of volunteers and medical workers converged on triage centers, offering services and blood.

One man caught under the rubble used his cell phone to reach family in Pennsylvania with a plea for help.

''She received a call from him saying he was still trapped under the World Trade Center. He gave specific directions and said he was there along with two New York City sergeants,'' said Brian Jones, 911 coordinator in Allgeheny County. He would not give their names, but said the message was passed to New York authorities.

National Guard member Angelo Otchy encountered a series of grisly discoveries while searching for survivors. ''I must have come across body parts by the thousands,'' said Otchy, 26. ''I came across a lady, she didn't remember her name. Her face was covered in blood.''

Overcome with emotion, Otchy left the area and sat on a nearby curb, his head drooping, looking for a cigarette.

Among the dead were the Rev. Michael Judge, a Franciscan priest who served as a Fire Department chaplain, and three other high-ranking fire officials. One of them, Ray Downing, went to Oklahoma City with a group of New York City firefighters to help out following the terrorist attack there.

President Bush told the nation that thousands of lives were ended, though the final tally could take weeks. Some 50,000 worked at the trade center, with thousands more who visited each day. A firefighters union official estimated 200 firefighters may have died, and dozens of police officers were believed missing.

Paramedics waiting to be sent into the rubble were told that ''once the smoke clears, it's going to be massive bodies,'' according to Brian Stark, an ex-Navy paramedic who volunteered to help. He said the paramedics had been told that ''hundreds of police and firefighters are missing'' from the ranks of those sent in to respond to the initial crash.

''I hope we get patients,'' said medical student Eddie Campbell, who rushed to help at one of the centers. ''But they're not coming out. They're in there,'' he said, pointing down the street to where the World Trade Center once stood.

Emergency Medical Service worker Louis Garcia said initial reports indicated that bodies were buried beneath the two feet of soot on streets around the twin towers. Garcia, a 15-year veteran, said bodies ''are all over the place.''

Before the rescue effort began, hundreds of firefighters sat on the West Side Highway or leaned against their rigs, waiting for orders to go into the leveled skyscrapers and search for what they feared would be hundreds of bodies - including many colleagues.

''This is going to hurt,'' said Jack Gerber, a 43-year-old Brooklyn firefighter. ''A lot of guys got killed today.''

He said that after the first building collapsed, surviving firefighters passed cell phones around to tell their loved ones they were alive.

Barbara Kalvig hurried with a car full of colleagues from the New York Veterinarians Hospital to lend a hand at a triage center opened up by the city's Board of Health.

''We closed the hospital and brought a bunch of doctors and nurses,'' Kalvig said. ''We just drove as far as we could.''

Hundreds of volunteers with medical, military or nursing experience formed ad-hoc crews to accept blood donations and take care of minor injuries as truckloads of medical supplies flooded in.

Nearby, a construction crew hauled plywood to the emergency teams to be used as makeshift stretchers for rescue crews.

Craig Senzon, 29, a neurologist volunteering at the triage center said the experience was horrific.

''We felt a heaviness inside us that none of us have ever felt before,'' Senzon said.

Hundreds were taken to hospitals, nursing homes and triage centers. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said some 1,500 ''walking wounded'' were at a mobile hospital in New Jersey's Liberty State Park, near the Statue of Liberty.

A few blocks away from the World Trade Center, about 120 doctors and people with medical training traveled in a convoy of pickup trucks, ambulances, a dump truck and SUVs toward the wreckage. Their job: To find survivors and try to save them.

Among them was Andrew Gray, a 26-year-old New Yorker with rescue worker experience. Gray had been told he'd be helping burn victims.

Nila Perez, 37, who was waiting to donate blood at the triage center after being evacuated earlier in the day from Wall Street, said: ''I was going to walk home, but I felt like I had to do something.''


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment