WASHINGTON (AP) - The pictures of devastation that have flowed constantly from New York since Sept. 11 did not prepare Nevada's senators for what they saw Thursday at the southern end of Manhattan.
''You come around a corner and this massive devastation just overwhelms you,'' Sen. John Ensign said.
Sen. Harry Reid described the jagged edges of steel heaped this way and that, the smoke that continues to billow from the ground - even the stench.
''I saw hell today,'' Reid said.
Forty U.S. senators took an Amtrak train from Washington to New York, then boarded a ferry that took them to a berth in Lower Manhattan under the watch of Coast Guard cutters armed with mounted machine guns.
From there, it was a short walk to ''ground zero,'' where thousands of rescue workers, firefighters and police officers were combing the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
''If anything, this helps me understand why so much help is needed for New York,'' said Ensign, a Republican who explained that before the terrorist attack, he was someone who liked to visit New York, but never wanted to spend more than a couple of days there.
Reid, the second ranking Democrat in the Senate, said his resolve to support President Bush in whatever decision he makes about retaliation was strengthened by the visit, which included meeting with New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki.
''We should avoid hurting innocent people,'' Reid said. ''But we should hurt the people responsible for this.''
The senators returned to Washington in time for the president's address to Congress and the nation Thursday night.
Amid the work were poignant scenes, including a construction worker welding an American flag to a beam, Ensign said.
Reid said he chatted with a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, who serves aboard the naval hospital ship Comfort that is anchored off Manhattan. He also spoke with a Las Vegas police officer who was pitching in.
Both men talked of the powerful emotions they felt, glimpsing for the first time the skyline with its huge void, then walking through the mountains of wreckage.
Ensign said the scene was almost too much to comprehend. ''There's almost an air of numbness,'' he said. ''The firefighters, the construction crews, the rescue workers have all been doing this so long, they're just numb.''