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Published: Sunday, 9/16/2001 - Updated: 1 year ago

Terrorists gouge painful wounds on N.Y. streets, hearts

BY MITCH WEISS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
'I light a candle for everybody,' says Siham Bazzy of New York. 'I light a candle for everybody,' says Siham Bazzy of New York.
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NEW YORK - Every morning at dawn, hundreds of volunteers from all over the nation begin lining up outside the Jacob Javits Convention Center.

Hundreds of people. Ironworkers and steelworkers carrying heavy equipment. Blue and white collar workers. All want to lend a helping hand.

Officials pass around sign-up sheets.

“We need iron workers,'' one of the organizers yelled.

A group of 10 men walked forward, some carrying their tools. They signed up and followed the organizers to a truck to the World Trade Center to help in the rescue and recovery efforts.

“This is something we have to do,'' said Dave Douglas, 38, of Brooklyn, a welder with Steamfitters Local 635. “I'm not going to sit home and watch TV. This is important.''

John Ramos, 57, a pipefitter, is angry.

“They took away my building,'' he said.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he helped build the World Trade Center complex, which includes the twin towers, four office buildings, and a 22-story hotel centered around a five-acre enclosed mall. He spent long, “proud hours'' working on the buildings.

“Now, look at it,'' he said, shaking his head from side to side. “It breaks my heart.''

While the people wait outside the convention center, other volunteers hand out food.

“This is a time for people to come together,'' said Henry Rodriguez, 32, of Brooklyn, a mechanic.

And they do.

Police and fire units from more than a dozen states have arrived in Manhattan, including a fire company from Monroe County, Michigan.

Mike Merkle spent all day Friday and part of yesterday at ground zero.

“It's hard to describe the scene. It's just total devastation. It looks like a bomb hit it,” said the 19-year-old firefighter from Monroe Township just outside of Monroe.

He knew he had to come to New York when he heard that firefighters had been killed.

“It's a brotherhood. You don't know what it's like to be a firefighter. We all stand up for each other and we're there when you need us,” he said.

Ida Fire Chief Ed Wertenberger felt the same way.

“They needed help. We really felt bad about what happened.''

The chief came in with 20 men from other units. They arrived Friday morning and are scheduled to be at ground zero, helping to contain smoldering fires in the rubble.

When the call went out for help, firefighters from southeast Michigan heeded the call. They dropped everything and headed to New York.

The unit is being housed at a hotel in mid-town Manhattan, their expenses paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Wayne Gooding said he was watching the tragedy unfold on TV and felt he had to help. He got in his car and drove to New York from Jackson, Mich., where he works as a medical examiner. His job is to help identify bodies being taken to a temporary morgue.

The condition of some of the bodies makes that difficult.

“It was almost overwhelming,'' said Mr. Gooding, 34.

The mood at the morgue is somber as ambulances arrive. Sometimes, crews carry in bodies. Other times they receive remains, a limb at a time.

“I tried not to think about it. I just tried to concentrate on the job. That was the only way to get through it,'' he said.

  • Instinct told Siham Bazzy to run for her life. Awe and fear cemented her to the sidewalk.

    She was captivated by the sickening scene unfolding 1,350 feet above her.

    “I wanted to run, but was fascinated,” said Ms. Bazzy, a fashion designer.

    On Tuesday morning, she was at ground zero of the worst act of terrorism to strike the United States, walking to the Radio Shack store in the lobby of the World Trade Center to buy a telephone.

    “I thought it was a small plane that maybe hit the observation deck. From my angle, I couldn't see that much so I just stood there and watched. Everybody was watching.”

    But when a second jetliner slammed into the second World Trade tower, she knew it was no accident.

    She started running. Debris showered the street. Within minutes, choking smoke blocked the sun.

    Ms. Bazzy ran in horror as people screamed in fear. Several times, she tripped over the bodies of people who had jumped from the twin towers.

    Others near her were crushed by falling slabs of concrete.

    Covered with soot and dirt, Ms. Bazzy made it to safety, but she hasn't stopped thinking about her narrow escape or the people who died in front of her eyes.

    “All I know is the building collapsed and I thought I was dead. It was hell in a very narrow street,'' she said.

    From a distance, the nation's financial nerve center resembles a war zone after an explosive Third World coup. A huge crater is filled with smoldering tons of twisted metal, broken concrete and glass, the only reminders of the majestic twin towers that dominated the lower Manhattan skyline.

    For days, police officers have manned checkpoints, while armed National Guardsmen in helmets and camouflage rumbled through Manhattan in convoys.

    Endless crews of rescue workers dig through the rubble, searching for traces of thousands of missing people.

    When terrorists crashed two hijacked passenger planes into the World Trade Center towers on Tuesday, they shredded America's sense of security. The attacks on the office buildings, and later on the Pentagon, made the nation feel vulnerable.

    “It's like Beirut,'' said Tom Szarcinski, 51, of Queens, a construction worker who was outside the twin towers at the time of the terrorist attack. “This is America. This kind of terrorism is not supposed to happen here.''

    But it did.

    Rosa Gillen knows that well.

    Working as a janitor on the 38th floor of the south tower, she heard people scream that a plane had just hit the north tower. She ran to a window. Then she darted to a staircase, moments before her building was hit.

    “I heard this really, really loud noise and the building shook,'' said Mrs. Gillen, 53, of Brooklyn. “I stood there for a minute. My heart started racing and I thought I was going to die. I was frozen ... I was crying.''

    That's when a man running down the smoke-filled staircase grabbed her hand.

    “He said, ‘Come-on, we have to get out of here,''' she said. With others behind and in front of them, they headed down. Her heart pounding, her legs shaking, and her skin singed by the heat, she made it outside - only to find the streets filled debris and chaos.

    “Everybody was running around like crazy. They were knocking into people trying to get away from the building. People down here were scared. I saw all these bodies,” she said. “I tasted death that day and I survived. I feel so guilty. I survived when so many others died.''

    Chris McMillen understands.

    Living in an apartment in the shadow of the World Trade Center, Mr. McMillen, 25, a former Toledoan, was awakened by the noise. He looked out his window and saw smoke and fire coming from the north tower. He quickly got dressed and went to the roof of his six-story building and watched in horror as a plane approached the south tower. A few moments later, he saw a fireball. Within seconds, Mr. McMillen was covered in debris.

    “I thought, ‘Holy crap! I better get out of here,''' said Mr. McMillen, a model and musician.

    He told his friends and they fled the scene. Along the way, he would stop every 30 seconds or so to look back at the buildings before they collapsed.

    “It was a scene out of a horror movie,'' said Mr. McMillen.

    He hasn't been able to sleep since. He has been haunted by the broken bodies. The broken lives. The broken dreams.

    Two nights after the attacks, he went to a jazz club to try to forget. But in the middle of a set, he began to get flashbacks.

    “I haven't slept in days. It just stays with you. You think you're over it, but you're not. I don't know if I'll ever get over it.''

  • John Callabrese leaned against a car coughing up soot and dirt.

    For two days, the 41-year-old firefighter had been digging in the rubble, searching for survivors. His fingernails were torn from digging so hard in the rubble. His hands were cut and bleeding; his dark brown eyes were red, bloodshot, and glassy.

    He was taking a break. Just a short break.

    “I'm going back in a few minutes. I just have to catch my breath. I'm not leaving here, not until we get everyone out,'' he said defiantly.

    For those digging in the rubble, every passing hour sapped their strength and hopes of finding more people alive.

    But they continued digging, against all odds.

    “We're looking and listening for anything,'' said Ralph Scaradino, another firefighter.

    Firefighters and rescue workers have spent days listening for sounds in the smoldering steel and concrete chaos of what once was the World Trade Center. They know up to 5,000 people could be buried in the rubble.

    They're not giving up hope.

    “We pulled a few out yesterday,'' Mr. Callabrese said Thursday. “We're going to find more. I feel it.''

    Mr. Scaradino was just as positive.

    “We're hoping for a miracle and miracles happen,'' he said. Then he turned and buried his face in his hands to hide his pain. “I pulled out four of my friends yesterday. Do you know what that's like?''

    As many as 200 firefighters are missing and presumed dead. On Friday, President Bush and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani toured the area with local, state, and national officials.

    President Bush promised to punish the terrorist groups responsible for the attacks. He praised the firefighters. He called them heroes.

    But Mr. Callabrese doesn't feel like one.

    “This is my job. This is what I get paid to do,'' he said as he watched another convoy of refrigerator trucks transport the bodies extracted from the debris to a makeshift morgue.

    He took a deep breath and looked at the long row of fire and rescue trucks lined up about one block away.

    “I have to go,'' he said.

    Mr. Callabrese put on his hat, then headed back into the cavern of horror to search some more.

  • For days, Jeff Davidson has been trying to find out what happened to his brother, Mike, a trader with Cantor Fitzgerald, a financial company.

    Unable to get any information from the police or the company, he took matters into his own hands. He printed up posters with his brother's face and a contact number.

    Then, he began handing them out on the street and at city hospitals, where more than 2,100 victims are being treated.

    “Someone has to know something,'' he said. “Maybe someone saw him. Maybe he's in one of the hospitals.''

    Mr. Davidson is not alone.

    Thousands of flyers bearing the images of those who vanished are glued and taped to walls and lampposts, nailed to trees and park benches all over Manhattan.

    On Thursday, hundreds of families went to a downtown armory to fill out police paperwork about their loved ones. The police said it will help them account for the people in the buildings. They asked family members for dental records.

    Outside the armory, the families exchanged flyers, hoping that someone knows something about their missing spouse, friend, colleague, or child.

    “My brother called his wife after the plane hit and said he was leaving,'' said Jeff Davidson, 27, whose brother worked on the 104th floor in the north tower.

    That was the last time anyone heard from him.

    “I keep getting my hopes up, but then I realize that what are the chances that he survived? What are the chances? Then I just break down,'' he said.

    Wen Shi went to the armory looking for anyone who could help her find her husband, Weibin Wang, 41, a financial analyst with Cantor Fitzgerald.

    “Excuse me, but have you seen my husband?'' she asks a man as she hands him his picture.

    He shakes his head no.

    “You feel so helpless,'' she said, her grief-stricken voice quivering.

    She stood in the hot sun for a moment and cradled his picture close to her heart, as if she could feel his presence. Her hands were shaking.

    “What am I going to tell my children,'' she wailed. “What am I going to tell them? He is such a good man, a good father. I want him home.''

    David Mattingly, an illustrator, a passerby who was listening to her story, consoled her when she began sobbing uncontrollably.

    “It's OK,'' he told her.

    She continued to cry. Soon, Mr. Mattingly, joined her. A few minutes later, she regained her composure and disappeared into a sea of other desperate families.

  • New York's swagger has turned jittery.

    Many of the streets are quiet. The city has received more than 100 bomb threats in the last week. Between the terrorist acts and bomb threats, many New Yorkers say they are scared.

    People are trying to find ways to deal with their grief. There are candlelight vigils to remember the victims; U.S. flags fly from apartments and storefronts.

    Mr. McMillen, the former Toledoan, said he has been having a difficult time. One minute, he's happy. The next, he's angry over nothing. The other day he got mad when he heard some people complaining.

    “Some people are just living their regular life, complaining about traffic or not getting to the health club on time. This isn't about that, it isn't about the little inconveniences of life. This is about all the people who died. This is about all the people who are afraid to go into buildings. This is the most awful thing in the world,'' he said.

    Salome Berry, who works near the World Trade Center, said the city lost some of its luster, its bounce. She used to go to the World Trade Center at lunch on sunny days and used the twin towers as a compass when she was lost.

    “It was such a wonderful building. I'm just so sad. The whole city, the whole nation is crying,'' she said.



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