Friday, September 14, 2001

KFWB radio reporting for Friday, September 14th, 2001

Rain-collapses 7:07 AM PDT

As symbolic as is the rain, even with it, there is no time for sentiment. It has been raining and raining hard, probably a third of an inch, since about 1 AM Eastern time. Spread out over just the immediate four-block radius around the World Trade Center, that means tons of additional weight - on the debris, on any possible survivors, and most ominously of all, on no less than 111 buildings in that 4-block zone.

Construction workers fresh from the site yesterday told me their experience tells them that dozens and dozens of buildings will be unsalvageable - "we'll have to pull them down before they fall down" - and that the removal process will take not weeks but months. And all of it complicated by the seemingly least menacing thing to come out of the sky here since Tuesday morning.

False Victim 7:40 AM PDT

It was the kind of story rescuers have both hoped for, and feared, since Tuesday morning. A woman, in medical scrubs, a cell phone in her hand, hysterically telling officers that she had just spoken to her husband, a Port Authority policeman. He was trapped, in the hole below One World Trade. And there were nine other people there with him - alive.

Despite the heavy rain and the mountains of debris, workers rushed to the location she specified. And acoustical soundings, and trained dogs, and panicked searches found... nothing.

The woman - New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik told a news conference twenty minutes ago - finally admitted she had made the story up. She has been arrested, charged with hindering an investigation. From Commissioner Kerik's remarks it is unclear whether or not Sugeel Mejia actually has loved ones missing at the site.

Missing posters 810 AM PDT

Marina Gertsberg.

Montgomery Hord.

John Perconti.

Lloyd Rosenberg.

They smile out at you from the poles supporting the traffic light at the intersection on 9th Avenue. Their names can be read on the door that swings inward at the subway station at Sherman Square. The simple, and simply tragic, words "missing" leap from the page-sized posters at the memorial on 14th Street.

They are among the missing, and their photographs have been papered around this city. An extraordinary percentage of them are from one financial firm that occupied almost half the space on the top ten floors of One World Trade. That's where Marina Gertsberg worked, and Montgomery Hord, and John Perconti, and Lloyd Rosenberg.

And then there are the "other" officially missing. 4,759 of them.

Posters - One 9:10 AM PDT

In his novel "The War Of The Worlds," H.G. Wells described it as 'the great disillusionment' - beyond the terror is the shock of learning that what you've relied on - does not work.

Nothing in this city this morning exemplifies that shock more than the omnipresent plastering of photographs of missing people on almost every available public space. Their loved ones, already in disbelief at the prospect or likelihood that they are dead, are further confounded by the idea that in the information age, they must tape-up homemade posters in hopes of finding out what happened to a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife.

Most seem to be from the Cantor-Fitzgerald financial firm. Tuesday, it had nearly 700 employees inside One World Trade Center - on four floors above the 100th. Only a few have been found, alive or dead.

Posters - Two 9:40 AM PDT

They are taped to traffic light boxes, and on subway walls, and, in one much-publicized venue, to a camera crew van from a local television station. They are the photographs of the missing, produced on home computers and printers, with the barest of information - a picture, a name, the building and floor on which they worked, height, age.

And although mathematically this might not be probable, half of them seem to depict employees of Cantor-Fitzgerald, Treasury Bond specialists. One-thousand of its people worked at One World Trade, on floors 101, 103, 104, and 105. Thus far, the company has accounted for only a handful of those who were not on vacation or assignment elsewhere Tuesday.

This morning, these people, and these now water-logged pictures, have come to represent what happened here in as profound a manner as the physical devastation could ever do.

On The Barricades 10:25 AM PDT

Another quarter-mile or so of downtown Manhattan has been opened to civilians - the barricades have been pushed back to Canal Street. The soaking rain has, as promised, tamped down the smoke that here, yesterday, made the air so bad that five minutes' exposure produced rough throats and watery eyes. Face mask sales have shot through the roof throughout the city.

And do not mistake the stoicism of the New Yorker for calm. Less than an hour ago, a downtown subway train came to a grinding, sudden halt, just north of 23rd Street. The lights dimmed. Thirty seconds later, the train roared back to life, and sighs and laughter filled the air. One woman, fanning herself, said to no one in particular: "I was holding my breath - I thought that was it."

The Fire Is Still Hot 11:05 AM PDT

A twelve-hour, soaking rain has just tapered off here - and still, incredibly, smoke plumes upwards, twenty stories high, from "the hole." This underscores what rescue workers told us yesterday: the rubble upon which they are working, striving against all odds in hopes of recovering just one survivor, is still hot. Fires still rage beneath what is, in places, ten stories' worth of debris. And it is those fires that endanger the 111 buildings in the four-block area around the Trade Center.

The public has been permitted about a quarter mile closer. The boundary is now Canal Street - roughly where the Holland Tunnel empties out - and still, despite that rain, you can smell the smoke.

Rescue Route Blocked 12:20 PM PDT

It used to be 'The West Side Highway' and it used to be the best route for commuters to the Trade Center. Now, it's the access for rescue workers, dump trucks, ambulances, bulldozers, and here at the Canal Street intersection their constant rumble, almost ceaseless since Tuesday, is at a halt. Heavy equipment, stopped, backed up for blocks and blocks.

And there can be only one reason for a movement lockdown - the inspection of the Trade Center 'hole' by President Bush must be imminent.

Skies have cleared and one lone welcoming sight awaits the president - The Statue of Liberty would doubtless be visible to him as he approaches.

Fighter Jets Above Trade Center 1:02 PM PDT

For fifteen minutes, lower Manhattan has experienced something it has not seen since early Tuesday - air traffic: flyovers by fighter jets, amazing the crowds on the West Side Highway, even getting policemen to stop and stare.

They are, of course, here principally to protect the airspace during President Bush's visit here. That their banking, darting, and roaring through the suddenly brightened skies provides perhaps this city's first entertainment in four days, however, should not be overlooked.

Numbed To Horror 1:40 PM PDT

While the President sees all this for the first time, for the now four-day veterans here, the grim work doesn't just continue, it almost becomes mundane. A voice, more weary than shocked, scratches across a police radio blaring onto Canal Street: "Body parts found on the 14th floor of The World Financial Center."

With the efficiency and dispassion of a bank teller, a woman dispatcher repeats the grim news. "Body parts found on the 14th floor of The World Financial Center."

Consider what this means. The World Financial Center was not one of the buildings hit or burned on Tuesday. This development, and whatever horror led up to it, is so grisly, so improbable that on any other day it would've been the lead story somewhere. But here, on Day Four, it is just a detail.

Masks 2:20 PM PDT

Three days later and this is a different city.

It's not just that you can stand here at the intersection of Canal and Greenwich Streets and look downtown ten blocks and see nothing but two buildings, perfectly framing the smoke still rising from where the 12-million square foot World Trade Center stood. It's also what you see on the faces of New Yorkers - not their expressions, their face masks. With a twelve-hour soaking rain having ended this afternoon, the number of those protecting themselves from the smoke-tinged air is down to perhaps one in 50. Yesterday it might've been one in 10.

And these masks may be with us for the duration. Construction workers told me they can already smell the decay of bodies - and that smell could move uptown.

There is only one comparison: the masks we see in the chilling photos of the worldwide flu epidemic of 1919. This is a different kind of epidemic.

Candlelight Vigils 4:40 PM PDT

Forty minutes ago, it began. Throughout Metropolitan New York, in small clusters like the dozen people who stood for half an hour at the intersection of 70th Street and Amsterdam Avenue before they began to walk to join up with another group at Red Cross Headquarters on 66th Street, and proceed to Fire Company Number 40 further down the block... to large groups numbering in the hundreds at Union Square downtown and the Brooklyn Promenade across the East River in Brooklyn Heights... candlelight vigils at sunset... silent tributes BY New Yorkers TO New Yorkers, and to all of the victims of Tuesday's terrorism.

Even Drivers on the suburban Long Island Expressway report that at nearly every overpass, they see small groups standing on the bridge sidewalks, candles lit, tributes paid.

USS Comfort Docks 5:20 PM PDT

The USS Comfort, the Navy's giant floating hospital, has just been docked at a berth on the Hudson River at West 57th Street. The aircraft-carrier sized ship is here to provide a resting facility for weary rescue workers; even in the darkness, the three giant red crosses against its white hull are visible.

This is the third symbolic gesture of the day here. Few New Yorkers got to see President Bush, but the three or four hundred workers at The Trade Center site who shook the president's hand say they were greatly moved by his presence and how he lingered to talk to nearly every one of them, however briefly.

And then there was the first gesture. Since terror came out of the skies over Manhattan twice on Tuesday morning, this city has seen virtually no aircraft. Late this afternoon, two F-15 fighter jets circled the island for several hours. Their purpose was, of course, to protect the airspace around the president. Their impact was to reassure the citizens of this city that in these troubled times, they are far from alone.

My Tour 6 PM PDT

President Bush got to see Ground Zero; I got a much lower-profile, but nonetheless still staggering, behind-the-lines tour late this afternoon.

And walking through the neighborhood immediately south of the barricades at Canal Street is remarkably like getting the insider's look at Burbank or Fox or any other Southland film studio. One block of Washington Street features untouched small apartment buildings with not a soul to be seen or heard. Turn a corner, and parked by every manhole is a phone company or electricity company truck. Make a right and you do a double take: there are 19, count them, 19, caterpillar bulldozers in the middle of the street waiting to be called upon.

And finally, as far as your escorts will let you go, still six blocks in the distance, the ever-present, seemingly never-ending, smoke... the smoke from fires where the World Trade Center used to be... fires that resisted more than twelve hours of pelting rain, which look just as fierce, and portend just as badly for the chance of any more survivors, as they did on Tuesday afternoon.

Baseball Report 7:15 PM EDT

With the major airports in Washington and Boston still closed, ones in Chicago and New York having shut down before reopening, and all other air hubs on extremely limited schedules, sources in the emergency logistics departments of some prominent carriers say baseball's plan to resume play Monday and Tuesday is in jeopardy.

Only seven games are to be played Monday, but the New York Yankees have to get to Tampa for a game that day, and then to Chicago by Tuesday evening. While many other trips in the next week could conceivably be handled by rail or bus because all teams are playing within their own divisions, the Florida Marlins have to get to Montreal for a game Monday, the Houston Astros have to be in San Francisco on Tuesday.

The airline sources say baseball needs to be flexible - and with no certainty about when anything approaching a full flight schedule can be achieved, so do the other sports. In short, college and pro football executives have to worry about... next weekend's games.

Masks 8:05 PM PDT

This is not the same New York and you can see it in the faces of the citizens. Not the covered-up looks of apprehension... but the gauze face masks many of them are wearing.

Sirens and subway snafus are apparent everywhere, but only downtown - 23rd Street and below - is this remarkable change evident.

During the hot and humid afternoon Thursday, when the smoke from The World Trade Center site was enough to irritate eyes and constrict throats within minutes, perhaps one in ten pedestrians was wearing a mask of some kind. Even after the rain Friday, the smoke continued to plume into the atmosphere, and maybe one in fifty were wearing masks.

It all looks frighteningly familiar, if you have ever seen the black and white photographs from 1919, when masks were worn everywhere in hopes of combating a worldwide influenza epidemic.