At ground zero, an otherworldly scene of broken stone, steel

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Associated Press WriterNEW YORK (AP) -- The spot where the World Trade Center once stood was an otherworldly place Wednesday, a hazy landscape of gray dust, splayed girders and boulders of broken concrete.

Everywhere lay the paperwork of Wall Street -- charred expense reports, torn memos, ledger sheets, along with floppy disks.

For the first time since the twin towers collapsed, officials Wednesday took reporters to visit ground zero of the catastrophe, as rescue workers dug through the rubble to find the thousands feared buried.

A morgue set up in a Brooks Brothers clothing store received remains a limb at a time. Rescue dogs clambered over the debris; nearby, workers readied a dozen 8-inch-high robots to join the search.

Only about seven stories of the north tower remained, its girders bent outward. The south tower was a two-story-high heap of rubble. National Guardsmen guarded the ruins.

"It's horrifying. It's like Beirut," said Wilson Franco, a 25-year-old member of the Civil Air Patrol, as he delivered blankets and other supplies.

The smell of natural gas and the sound of portable generators hung over the site. Grit consisting of pulverized concrete, insulation and paper made it hard to breathe. It covered the streets in a gray blanket a few inches thick.

An elevated walkway that once ran between the World Trade Center and the World Financial Center had plummeted to the ground, blocking one street. Huge steel beams and aluminum panels lay on the sidewalks.

Small bulldozers plowed through the rubble, while workers formed human chains to remove debris. They shoveled ash and other debris into piles along the side of the road.

Joe Meyers, a nurse from Rockaway, N.J., said he had treated more than 30 rescue workers, mostly for eye injuries from the dirt. Nurses hung bags of saline solution from a broomstick and used it to rinse workers' eyes.

Abandoned and damaged cars were being towed away. Cars parked closest to the trade center were crushed.

A few blocks away, corner markets still had fruit neatly stacked in pyramids out front. The produce was covered with soot.

Firefighters in a crane truck hosed down the ruins of a 47-story part of the World Trade Center complex that collapsed hours after the twin 110-story towers crumbled.

Other buildings around the center sustained varying degrees of damage. Some had only soot covering their windows. One building was completely caved in; only its corners and part of its outer walls remained.

On one dusty window near the disaster site, there was a message written with a finger: "God Bless the Dead."

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