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Thread: In Last Piles of Rubble, Fresh Pangs of Loss

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    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    In Last Piles of Rubble, Fresh Pangs of Loss

    March 17, 2002

    In Last Piles of Rubble, Fresh Pangs of Loss
    By ERIC LIPTON and JAMES GLANZ

    Revisiting Ground Zero

    They are reaching the end of the line at ground zero. Picks still clang against rusted steel, spades still dig into pulverized concrete, backhoes still pour yet more contorted steel into flatbed trucks. And in a rush of recent discoveries, more human remains have been uncovered in the last several days than in many weeks.

    But the unforgiving truth is, they are running out of dirt to sift through at the World Trade Center site. The once monstrous task of debris removal and body recovery has come down to little more than a hill or two.

    And so a remarkable mood has taken hold through the bright mornings and the cold, clear nights, one not experienced before during the nonstop work and permanent fatigue. It is the feel of something at once depressing and darkly beautiful, and of a kind of twofold regret.

    The discoveries of the bodies have made the workers, firefighters and construction bosses feel the sense of loss fresh and raw once more. But as the shovels start to scrape the naked bedrock, there is the odd sensation, despite the exhaustion, of not wanting to let go

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    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    In Last Piles of Rubble - cont'd

    Precarious Underground World

    As dark and disturbing as those scenes are, no place at ground zero is more alien than the subterranean universe where laborers are now drilling deep holes in the earth beneath Vesey Street, in the buried northern fringe of the pit.

    Like the search for remains, the work to shore up a 70-foot-high retaining wall that encompasses the site is nearing its final stages. To the south, the east and the west, rows of long cables have been threaded through the wall, called the bathtub, and deep into the bedrock below to keep it from caving inward and letting groundwater, fed by the Hudson River, seep through.

    But on the northern edge of the site, the job has turned out to be much more complex. The wall is held up mainly by a series of precarious and partly smashed basement floors and a towering mound of steel debris. The debris cannot be removed until the wall is supported. But the wall cannot be directly reached with the debris there. So the workers have been sent underground.

    The only way into that dim world is along the PATH rail line that once ran along the very bottom of the pit, through the basement of the Custom House, which was partly smashed by debris that fell when the north tower collapsed.

    A sentry at the ragged mouth of the tunnel checks that everyone who enters is wearing a respirator, goggles, a hard hat and a reflecting vest, and explains that if the opening collapses, there are two escape routes. "Three blasts of the horn, that means get out," says Mike Sturdevant, the contractor at the entry checkpoint whose makeshift desk sits on the crumbling, abandoned PATH platform.

    Sunlight soon disappears on the journey down, replaced by harsh bluish spotlights that illuminate the cavern, although many workers have flashlights mounted on their helmets, just in case. A riot of heavy equipment rumbles, whines, beeps and shrieks. Four-foot fans blow incessantly. "This is dead air here," says Peter Rinaldi, an engineer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site.

    What time of day it is, what the weather is like outside, even what day of the week it is

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