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Thread: At Morgue, Ceaselessly Sifting 9/11 Traces

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    At Morgue, Ceaselessly Sifting 9/11 Traces

    At Morgue, Ceaselessly Sifting 9/11 Traces
    By DAN BARRY

    Outside the chalk-white tent, the whistle of traffic along the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive signals the forward movement of a city. But inside, 16 refrigerated trailers hum in a ceaseless chorus, giving voice to the dead whose remains are contained in their hold.

    The trailers hummed as time separated the city from the 11th of September: as the smoking mountain of what had been the World Trade Center became a yawning hole; as 1.6 million tons of debris were sifted through on a Staten Island landfill; as commemorative services caused heads to bow. They hummed and they continue to hum, a mantra-like reminder that talk of closure is premature.

    The trailers' contents are in the custody of Dr. Charles S. Hirsch, the chief medical examiner of New York City, who for 13 years has explained the city's deaths to its living. His duties now include the historic challenge of trying to identify the nearly 20,000 body parts carried to his agency's bleak, even forbidding building.

    The human remains recovered at the disaster site and the landfill all came to an open-air bay on the East 30th Street side of the medical examiner's building on First Avenue in Manhattan. In close and hectic surroundings, they were examined by a succession of experts

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    At Morgue, Ceaselessly Sifting 9/11 Traces, continuation

    Follow the Forensic Trail

    Then came what seemed like a timeless blur: of the unthinkable becoming mundane, of the constant engagement in what Dr. Hirsch calls the "dialogue with the dead." The nature of the disaster had already answered some of the basic questions that a medical examiner asks when standing over the dead, such as where and when the death had come. But, he said, there was still that first question: "Who are you?"

    People became obsessed with that question, among them Ms. Mundorff. The forensic anthropologist, her eyes blackened by her head injury, became the traffic director of a triage center that mushroomed onto East 30th Street. She examined every body part for something distinctive

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    At Morgue, Ceaselessly Sifting 9/11 Traces, continuation


    Families Are Grateful

    The mysteries of death can prey on the minds of those who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center collapse. They have struggled with loss, waded through months of misinformation and, in many cases, been denied the age-old ritual of burying the dead.

    But Jennie Farrell, a leader of a family group called Give Your Voice, said that many have been heartened by the unvarnished facts provided by perhaps the most daunting government agency in the city, the medical examiner's office. "There's a sense of comfort when you're given the information that you need," she said.

    Several months ago, in November, Dr. Hirsch was heckled during a meeting with family members, who thought it was insensitive of him to say that many victims had been vaporized. Now, Ms. Farrell said, his agency is widely applauded for its dealings with family members: gently explaining the drying-out process, sharing hopes for DNA breakthroughs, giving choices about when

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