For two and a half days the worst place on Earth has been just blocks from where I'm standing. Four thousand, seven hundred sixty three people remain unaccounted for, 94 bodies have been pulled from the rubble. And as grim and horrific as this search has been, it is expected to rain late Thursday night in the city, and that pile will grow more unstable and the surrounding building may become less sound. The worse job on Earth is about to get a whole lot more dangerous.
They added rain gear to the standard issue for emergency workers Thursday night, and brought in plenty of towels for what promises to be a miserable and dangerous few hours. Military helicopters patrolled the skies at dusk as the grim and desperate business of looking for survivors continued with numbing frustration. Surely in a well of horror this deep, there must be room for just one miracle.
Chief Jeff Thompson, FDNY: "I believe that there are still a lot of people under there that are alive. To me, that means an awful lot. We have to do everything possible to try to save these people. People last a long time, they just don't die in 24, 48 hours. People can last a week and better, so that means this operation has to happen."
Lt. Jimmy Hartnett, FDNY: "Guys are in shock. You can't comprehend it. You're looking at these buildings and you still can't believe it occurred. It's a disgrace that they had to stoop to this. I mean, all of these innocent people..."
The job is grizzly enough, but it is also frighteningly dangerous. Some of the buildings still standing are doing so only precariously. Debris started raining down from one Thursday night, sending rescue workers below fleeing to safety. Everyone here is jittery about another possible building collapse.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, New York City: "At this point, none of the buildings that are left standing have been found to be structurally unsound. They're all going to be continually monitored and looked at."
But late Thursday night the fear of another collapse forced the evacuation of the site near West Broadway, near what used to be the North Tower. Reports coming over police band radios said that the area may no longer be safe, that one of the buildings still standing was beginning to buckle. There was no confirmation of the report, but workers were evacuated as officials are taking no chances.
Earlier Thursday we got another example of how dangerous the work at the disaster site is, as two rescue workers were themselves buried beneath debris. They were soon saved by their own brothers in this effort
Tracy Morgan, Rescue Worker: "We were just grabbing piece by piece, paper by paper, looking, searching for them. The next thing you know, they asked the whole crowd to be quiet, I guess they were listening for the firemen yelling, and once they resumed, about 10 minutes later we got one up, and everyone started chanting 'USA,' clapping, and then in the next 20 or 30 minutes we got the next one up."
There has been, for the workers, so little to cheer and so little time to mourn. When will it all sink in?
Rescue Worker: "I don't know if it ever really will. I mean, planes flew into the World Trade Center."
The voice of that rescue worker just trailed off there. He is a firefighter from Raleigh, North Carolina, just 21 years old, but years are not likely to help him find the words to describe the horror he has seen.