Saturday, September 15, 2001

KFWB radio reporting for Saturday, September 15th, 2001

Dire Forecast For Clean-up 6:20 PDT AM

Nine months to a year. That's the forecast of an expert who has inspected the site this morning. How long it will take, how many round-the-clock days it will require to remove the millions of tons of wreckage caused when the two towers of the World Trade Center avalanched into the heart of the financial district here now more than 96 hours ago.

The owner of an area removal contracting firm notes that after four days of heroic, superhuman digging, only the perimeter has been cleared. An estimate last night produced another startling number: destroyed here 25 million square feet of office space.

While there has been no official forecast, workers returning from the site have continually predicted the process would take months. When, in the middle of an uptown subway ride earlier in the week, one shook his head slowly and said "three, minimum," other riders gasped. Now, he seems optimistic. If the contractor is right, the earliest the site would be cleared would be early June of 2002.

Firefighter Funerals 6:40 AM PDT

Thirty-five years ago, New York's fire department suffered the worst day in its three centuries of service. A floor collapsed in a store in Madison Square, twelve of 'New York's Bravest' perished, and this city mourned for weeks on end. Earlier this summer, when a group of firemen were lost on Father's Day, the sadness overshadowed the holiday and many of the weeks that followed.

Today, New York begins to mourn the more than 350 firefighters believed killed at The World Trade Center... two of them, among its leaders, chief of department Peter Ganchi and first deputy commissioner William Feehan. They, and departmental chaplain Father Michael Judge, are being buried today.

The city has now announced that the private grieving for these three men will serve as prelude to a public memorial service, in central park, a week from tomorrow, with perhaps as many as a million in attendance. Two of the organizers of the event are Edward Koch and David Dinkins, both former mayors of this city which is second to no other in its estimation, appreciation, and remembrance, of the men sworn to confront any danger.

Subways 7:40 AM PDT

Three years hence, New York will celebrate the centennial of its extraordinary subway system, the veins and arteries of this community, traveled by 4,700,000 of us, every day.

Since the attack on The World Trade Center, the subway tunnels, most of which converge in and around the area, have been the scene of confusion and frustration. Trains have had to be rerouted around the Trade Center and the 111 shaky buildings in the immediate neighborhood, and not just because of the fear that the boisterous vibration of these built-not-for-comfort-but-for-speed vehicles might exacerbate problems at Ground Zero. At least one station, Cortlandt Street, is still inaccessible due to the debris from the collapse of the towers. Inspections yesterday suggested the station has caved-in.

Other stations in the area were tested trains running gingerly through them and West Side service has been extended this morning... one small bright note for New Yorkers, who for five days have been fearful above ground, and frustrated below it.

Remove Those Posters 8:08 AM PDT

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: if New York lasts a thousand years, this may be its finest hour. Four full days later, rescuers still claw their hands bloody, hoping against diminishing hope that someone is still down there alive. And not only are new posters of the missing still going up all around the city, but good Samaritans have even been papering the town with pictures of people they do not personally know.

But not here at the so-called 'Crossroads of the World,' the railroad station, Grand Central Terminal. When Adrienne Mand posted a series of "Missing" fliers, they were immediately taken down on the instructions of station management.

An incomplete but thorough inspection in the last half hour here located two freshly posted "Missing" signs at the remote Track 27 but none in the massive station itself... possibly the smallest number of fliers in any building in this city.

Nine Months? 8:42 AM PDT

Subway directions signs in thirty-odd West Side stations still read, in chilling innocence, "E trains to World Trade Center all times." All times? Even the future? Just two months ago Larry Silverstein signed a 99-year lease for all of the Trade Center's office space. He says it should be rebuilt, in part as a memorial to the estimated 5000 dead, but not immediately.

If excavation contractor Anthony Acierno, who has just inspected Ground Zero, is correct in his forecast, there is no reason to worry about rebuilding before it would be appropriate or seemly. He shocked reporters this morning by suggesting that the debris here weighs more than a million tons, and that to remove it will take from nine months to a year.

Enough To Stop You In Your Tracks 9:06 AM PDT

The subway workers were in the 'frozen zone' to inspect the damaged Chambers Street station. None of them had seen The World Trade Center since it all happened. As we cleared the building on the southeast corner at Greenwich Street, we froze. All six of us. Three blocks distant, there it was: the debris like not just a train wreck, but like an entire toy train set thrown by a petulant giant and the burned and twisted tracks and the trestle thrown on top for good measure.

And here, back of the barricades, at Duane Street, the most horribly awe-inspiring part of this vision of hell-on-earth remains the same: the fire, and the dirty brown smoke still rising into the azure sky. The fire looks new. This all looks like it happened 90 minutes ago, not 99 hours ago.

It's 20 Oklahoma Citys 9:42 AM PDT

At this distance, five blocks north, the bottom eight floors of The World Trade Center complex look like they always have, like they did when I worked there and used this entrance in front of me.

They look that way at first. Until, that is, the smoke clouds part for a second and you see the four-story pile of twisted metal in front of them; Until, that is, you realize that each of the windows is broken, burned out; Until, that is, it finally dawns on you that the top 102 floors of this building, are gone.

New Yorkers are today getting this close a view for the first time. They stand behind the barricades at every intersection in near-silence, and then someone mutters, "It's like Oklahoma City only 20 of them."

The Avalanche 10:20 AM PDT

An intact, three-story tall siding from The World Trade Center sits in the middle of the pile, pitching forward at 20 degrees, leaning to the left at about 45 degrees, looking like nothing less than a ski resort crushed in an avalanche. Fire hoses dampening the whole horrid mess, water shooting seven stories high.

Even at a distance of nearly five blocks, this awful scene, made visible today for the first time to the average New Yorker, inspires silenced awe. Dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people standing, staring, and a phenomenon repeated at intersection after intersection: Someone will look away for a moment, then look back at the great, terrifying, smoking pile, and say "Did something just happen? Didn't it just change?"

The answer is no it merely looks that way, it merely looks like it happened four minutes, not four days, ago.

Phil Returns 11:20 AM PDT

A decade ago, Phil worked on the east side subway line that serviced The World Trade Center. He hadn't been back since. Cops, and even soldiers, waved him and his crew and one ringer past the barricades and onto the moonscape of Chambers Street. Dust everywhere, broken glass, ruptured watermains.

Phil got quieter as we walked westward. And then, at the intersection of Greenwich Street, the parade stopped. Phil looked three blocks to our left, and there it was, the great smoking ash heap of The Trade Center like some horrific model mountain, as jagged as the Alps, as shrouded as the San Bernardinos only not by clouds, but by smoke. Active, well-fueled fires that could live for weeks. "My good God," Phil said. "It's so much worse than the pictures on TV."

The Volcano 12:40 PM PDT

Each time the city opens a little more of downtown, the scene repeats itself. As the average New Yorker gets a closer look, new horrors become evident, and crowds, silent, mournful, disbelieving, stand at the barricades to watch the mountainous, smoking rubble like a volcano thrust suddenly upwards into Manhattan by some geological horror.

Few spectators say anything, but when they do, the statements seem improbable: "It's like Oklahoma City only twenty of them." But it does look like that.

Excavation contractor Anthony Acierno inspected all this morning and shocked reporters by predicting the rubble will not be removed in less than nine months. Standing three blocks from the volcano, one wonders if it will take that long just to put out the fire.