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Rescuers approach air pockets, revive hopes



NEW YORK (CNN) -- Emergency crews digging deep inside the rubble of the World Trade Center complex said Saturday that they could soon reach air pockets that conceivably contain survivors.

While New York authorities have cautioned that the chances of finding anyone alive underneath the smoldering debris were slim, rescuers at the scene held out hope for a miracle.

"Today has been a significant day," said Capt. Stu Willig of Florida Task Force 2, one of eight urban search-and-rescue teams on the scene from across the country.

"We've gotten very deep, where we felt there was the possibility to find some trapped victims. And now we're in an area where we think we might find some trapped firefighters."

Teams were finding many open spaces in the basement areas, Willig said.

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"Weirder things have happened," said Donald Hull, a battalion chief from the Los Angeles County, California, Fire Department. "If there's a mall down there, you could maybe live on donuts and water for a couple weeks."

Saturday marked the tenth day since anyone was rescued from the rubble. Occasional reports of air pockets and large intact areas underneath the World Trade Center have raised the hopes of search teams, who have rushed to the area with dogs trained to sniff for a human scent.

Handcutters are the first to attack the piles, slicing the steel into manageable pieces. Dogs, some wearing paw-sized boots to protect them from hot metal underfoot, are then brought in to make sure no people are underneath before the debris is finally hauled away in large flat-bed trucks.

'Tremendous progress'

Debris removal will take at least six months, officials say, but the piles of twisted steel and chunks of concrete have been picked through so much already that it is difficult to differentiate the heaps that have already been searched and those awaiting search teams.

Saturday, additional cranes at the work site provided increased reach over the piles covering complex. Watching was New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who has spent time at the site of the recovery every day since the attacks.

"The people there are making a tremendous amount of progress in clearing it away," he said.

Amid the devastation, he watched a group of firefighters remove the body of another firefighter.

"It was a very beautiful scene to see how they treated him and how they all stood at attention when he was brought in and when the priest blessed him," Giuliani said later. "It gives you a sense of the dignity and the honor that's being paid to those that have been lost."

Missing-persons number unchanged

The daily statistics underscore the enormity of the task facing searchers and those involved in cleanup efforts.

As of Saturday, 90,937 tons of debris had been cleared in 6,255 truckloads, said Giuliani.

As of 2 p.m. EDT Saturday, the number of dead is 261, said Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. Of those, 194 have been identified.

The number of missing persons remained at 6,333, a number compiled from a variety of sources, including the 4,316 families who reported their relatives missing. It may contain some duplicates.

The missing tally does not include 1,241 people reported missing by foreign governments, said Kerik. That's because many of those listed as missing turn out not to have been anywhere near New York at the time of the disaster, he said.

People, phone service return

Residents and employees are now able to move back into lower Manhattan, except for an area of several blocks surrounding the World Trade Center site, which remained blocked off to everyone but emergency crews.

Vehicle and pedestrian access was restored for residents and business workers in the vicinity. The mayor said that between 5,000 or 6,000 had returned to their homes. An estimated 4,000 remain displaced. Phone service is slowly being restored as well.

"We're making progress," said John Bonomo, spokesman for Verizon Communications. "We're getting the service back up as quick as we can."

Bonomo had no estimate of the number of residents affected by the outages. The twin towers' collapse caused damage to a major Verizon switching center across the street and the cables and wires buried underground.






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