“Three body bags at West and Broadway, immediately.”
The female police dispatcher could not be more clinical. It is obvious she is having plenty of practice in bringing out the dead.
A moment later the walkie-talkie crackles again. “Body bag at West and Fourth,” then a pause _ “Fireman.”
Thanks to a friendly police officer, I am one of the few journalists who have entered Ground Zero, the area near Wall Street which took the full impact of the greatest terrorist attack in history.
In front of me is a massive funeral pyre, much bigger than it appears on television, almost two blocks long and 70 feet high in which the remains of up to 500 people lay buried.
On top of the wreckage, like little ants, thousands of rescue workers try desperately to pry the steal beams apart, to shear off the massive concrete columns and continue the search for their missing comrades and civilians. Policemen, firemen, FBI men and construction workers are all trying to furiously in what is becoming a losing race against time.
Despite the fact that 22,000 tons of debris have already been removed, the disheartening news is that there is still a million tons left. The heroic efforts to date have succeeded in shifting less than 2 percent of the carnage.
Somewhere underneath are over 300 firemen.
One of their colleagues put it in perspective for me. “In 150 years, since the first service was founded we lost 700 men. In one day we have lost half that amount.”
It is a shocking figure but when you see the fire trucks, which took the full impact of the falling buildings, you understand why. They are pancaked, flattened to a fraction of their size, and you only imagine and shudder about what happened to the occupants.
Everywhere around is the acrid stink of smoke from the many fires still raging beneath the pile, and the dust cloud that still hovers over the scene. The side streets are pale whites as a cascade of ash and dust still covers them.
Off in the distance I spot an Irish bar, a tricolor still hanging from the outside façade. Over there I see the ruins of the Millennium Hotel, one of the newest and most expensive in the city. It will never check in visitors again.
Behind me is a huge junkyard where vehicles crushed by the explosion are packed on top of each other like toy cars.
Every so often another body is brought out of the pile and there is brief silence. Firemen tell me the eeriest sound of all is mobile phones and pagers still ringing underneath the debris as loved ones still frantically try to find those missing.
It takes my companions and me over an hour to walk fully around the debris. On the way I pass FBI officers, army swat teams, police with shotguns at the ready and waves of construction workers, many passed out on the pavements from sheer exhaustion.
It is impossible to stop the tears from coming to utter a prayer for the dead and another for the living who have performed so heroically to try and save their fellow man.
It is estimated that one-quarter of those dead lost their lives trying to save others. The bible says it all, no greater love can a man have than to lay down his life for his friend, or in this case, a stranger.