Hope for more rescues all but gone
NEW YORK (AP) – One week after terrorists brought down the World Trade Center, the mayor said there was virtually no hope left Tuesday of finding any of the 5,400 missing souls alive. Meanwhile, a federal grand jury has begun investigating the attack.
The somber news from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani came just a few hours after the nation, led by President Bush on the White House lawn, paused for two minutes to honor the victims. The remembrance came at 8:48 a.m., exactly one week after the first of two hijacked airliners struck the twin towers, followed soon after by hijacked planes crashing at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.
Nancy Pelaez, an administrative assistant on her way to work in New York, paused and wiped away tears. ”When you keep silent these two minutes, it seems like a really long time,” she said. ”I’m thinking of people who were looking for their loved ones.”
By Tuesday, 218 people had been confirmed dead at the Trade Center and 5,422 were still listed as missing. Five survivors have been found, but none since last Wednesday. Just 135 bodies have been identified – little more than 2 percent of the dead and missing.
After a week of round-the-clock digging by thousands of rescue workers, the mayor said the chance of finding any survivors in the smoking ruins of the 110-story towers is now ”very, very small.”
”We don’t have any substantial amount of hope we can offer anyone that we will find anyone alive,” Giuliani said. ”We have to prepare people for that overwhelming reality.”
Authorities said a grand jury was convened last week in nearby White Plains to investigate the attacks, the first step toward possible charges. The community is part of the federal court system’s Southern District of New York, which has historically led investigations related to Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the attacks.
In Washington, Attorney General John Ashcroft said authorities have detained 75 people and arrested at least four material witnesses in the terrorist investigation. The Immigration and Naturalization Service said it has changed its rules to double the time some immigrants can be detained to 48 hours.
The FBI is also investigating the possibility that more than four planes had been targeted by the hijackers, Ashcroft said.
Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, meanwhile, vowed to wage a holy war against America if U.S. forces launch an assault to punish them for sheltering bin Laden, a Saudi exile. In the capital of Kabul, hundreds of clerics gathered to discuss conditions for possibly extraditing bin Laden to a country other than the United States.
Thousands of Afghans continued to flee to Pakistan amid fears of a U.S. attack. Some pushed past guards, ignoring warning shots fired over their heads.
As the one-week mark arrived, workers in New York’s command center paused amid the ringing phones and glowing computer screens. In Union Square, residents stood silently amid a sea of candles and flowers.
Even workers at ground zero stopped briefly in the hazy morning sunshine before returning to their labors within the seven-story mound of concrete, glass, metal and wood.
”If a brother has lost his life, you’d like to give him a proper burial,” said Tom Butler, spokesman for the Uniformed Firefighters Association. ”We’re going to continue to do what we have to do.”
Wearing a face mask to protect his face from the smoke, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan joined the mayor and Gov. George Pataki for a 20-minute tour of the rubble. He shook his head repeatedly.
”This is not just an attack on New York or the United States but on the whole world,” Annan said. Not long after his visit, the U.N. General Assembly postponed next week’s annual gathering of world leaders.
Hundreds of families from more than five dozen countries are waiting for word of their loved ones. Relatives continue to wallpaper the city with heartbreaking fliers bearing pictures and details of the missing.
In hopes of getting DNA matches, they have rooted through personal effects – toothbrushes, coffee mugs, razors, hairbrushes, chewed gum – that might provide a match with the dozens of body parts found at the site.
The process of DNA matching is expected to begin late next week, when the city medical examiner’s office receives special FBI software.
At the former Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, workers have sifted through more than 45,000 tons of debris from the crash site. Authorities said several knives and box cutters have been found, but it’s unknown whether they belonged to the hijackers.
Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, with ash on his shoes and a haggard expression on his face, said the collapse of the twin towers is making it difficult to dig deep into the rubble. And in areas where there might be a void beneath the rubble, rescuers have been driven away by the heat from underground flames.
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After a dry couple of weeks, the storm door may finally be opening.