290 Stories and more at Street Level

By Jack J. Murphy – Contributing Editor

It took three years and 60 acres of land to erect the World Trade Center. In less than two hours, a terrorist attack brought the twin towers (110 stories each) down to street level. Many lives have been saved by the heroic actions of firefighters, police officers, emergency medical personnel, and numerous citizens who aided their fellow man and who are now among the missing. Their courageous deeds will never be forgotten.

For many years, I emerged from the subway below onto the World Trade Center Plaza, but the sight I saw on the Thursday evening was totally disorienting. It took several hours before I could recognize the buildings that were still standing and feel and see the armies of firefighters with bleeding hands and torn gloves and clothing digging through the rubble. The sense that they were determined and would not give up was ever present. The tireless efforts of steel workers, truck haulers, and construction workers to remove the heavier structural pieces has been moving along as quickly as safety would allow. The countless brigades of other emergency personnel are assisting with whatever needs to be done to support those looking for survivors amid the debris, as are the volunteers of the American Red Cross and other organizations who came to assist.

We have experienced multiple firefighter deaths before, but never has this country witnessed entire battalions of firefighters missing in action. The call came in just as the fire crews were changing shifts, so double the number of members of many companies responded.

The firefighters’ names on the missing in action list are too painful for many to read. These names bring to mind the faces of so many friends with whom we have crossed paths in our world of fire. Each time the telephone rings or we meet an old face, a new name appears among the missing. Several high-rise building fire safety directors and many floor fire wardens who maintained their posts to assist in the building evacuations are also missing. The list of heroes keeps growing.

The “reverse-mushroom” explosion that has pulverized glass and concrete, and tossed large steel girders through the air like twigs in a windstorm has affected the ground zero site. Number 7 World Trade Center (47 stories) and the Vista Hotel (25 stories) have also toppled to the ground. Despite the uncertainty concerning the stability of several other high-rise structures, the digging continues, and hope is alive.

In your prayers, remember “The Ground of Heroes.”

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