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America Under Attack: Firefighters Speak Out

Aired September 13, 2001 - 16:28   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...when it collapsed, some of the rooms were intact. We were able to climb through a void. And firefighter Kelly (ph) and myself crawled around through the different rooms. And we were in hotel rooms that were shifted in the stairway. And unfortunately, there was no one in there.

QUESTION: No one at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. The only live person that we got out was the first day when we found someone.

QUESTION: Did you finding bodies (OFF-MIKE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, just some people are hurt, but for the most part we found dead bodies.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) can you explain how difficult? Can you put in words how difficult?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, tremendously difficult. It's just huge amounts of rubble to be moved. And it's like searching for a needle in a haystack. There was tremendous amounts of structural steel. Just think how long it took to put this building up. It might have come down quick, but just bringing all of that material out is a time- consuming effort. And I tell you the trade's people that volunteer have done a tremendous job. I'd really thank all of them. They've done above and beyond what you could possibly expect.

It's frustrating because you never expect when you come to a fire. When I was coming, I thought this was going to be a tough high- rise job. Never in my wildest imagination did I think this building was going to come down. I really believed in my heart that we were here to save people, not to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) which building was that in relation to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe it was the hotel across the street, but I'm not positive.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) firefighters suspect what (OFF-MIKE) mission (OFF-MIKE)? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh yeah, we have to go in -- there were people jumping, unfortunately, and we have to go in and remove the people as best we can. We risk our lives to save the lives of other people.

I never would have imagined the structure of the -- the World Trade Center has been -- for most of my life, the World Trade Center has been there, and I just could never imagine that coming down. We thought we were going in to save people, we never thought that -- naturally, there's always a risk in our job, but we never in our lives thought that the two towers of the World Trade Center would come down.

QUESTION: They mentioned before that this space was occupied (OFF-MIKE) huge amounts of manpower into that. Obviously (OFF-MIKE) just get in there (OFF-MIKE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you have a tremendous number of people that want to work and you have to have -- you know, there is only a few people that can actually work in a confined space, and then other people have to -- you know, there are many jobs that have to be done. Not all of them are crawling into the spaces, and all of it is vitally important.

And again, I would like to thank the steel workers and all of the trades that have come here and volunteered tremendous amounts of their time. Because without them, we couldn't do this job.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) not physically possible?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will tell you the truth, everybody comes here with enthusiasm, but everybody is willing to do whatever needs to be done to accomplish our mission.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to say. They are approaching, and it's a four-sided approach at this point, because there is so much rubble, and you know, everybody is working as hard as they can. And we just want to get our guys out. You know, one of the hardest things (UNINTELLIGIBLE) firemen died in there. And these were knowledgeable fire officers, tremendous men, and, you know, I just -- I really can't describe the sorrow all of us feel. It's terrible.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They look at it, they use a survey as transit and apparently somebody picked up a little bit of a list in the building. But I don't really have too much information on that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Captain Jon Sullivan (ph). I'm from the Bureau of Fire Prevention (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

QUESTION: This structure right here is part of one of the towers? The metal that's right there? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

QUESTION: And it fell over -- did that fall over from the beginning or?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, yeah, both towers pancaked. You know, it's -- the one, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) one went first, and then the one closest to us fell down. When the closest one to us fell down, I was about, like I said, half a block away helping somebody. I heard the rumble, the whole world turned back for about 10 minutes. It really -- it just stopped and I just said a prayer. You didn't know what was going to happen, how you were going to get out of there. And the, once we were able to get around, we removed the injured (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And like I said, he's one of few people that I know that removed somebody alive.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, thank you, fellows.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) talking with that officer, we don't know his name, the firefighter, and we cannot imagine how difficult the work is down there.

But as you look at the pictures with us, and we are seeing them for the first time with you, you get a tremendous sense of the devastation, you get a tremendous sense of the work that needs to be done, why this operation is so complicated, why it's going to take so long.

Michael Okwu has been down in it all day long. Michael, come on, chime in here, tell me what are you seeing right now. Is there still a lot of concern about these buildings?

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Aaron, there is definitely a lot of concern, and as I look at this, I can imagine why the rescue workers have such concern. I tell you, I have been here all day. My colleagues have been here now for pushing way past 48 hours, and every three or so hours or so is a new take on the surrealism of this scene. These are our first shots from this particular vantage point, which is just slightly due north and west of what was, again, the World Trade Center. That's a phrase that I keep using today.

You can see the center of this picture here as helicopters fly overhead, the smoldering wreckage from this site. Obviously, that first bit of pile of rubble that is quite high is what was the North Tower. And just to the south of that, that would be to your screen right, is what was the South Tower. Both just, again, a heaping pile of rubble that now workers, the rescue workers, have carted well over 300,000 tons of out of this area.

Just to the left of this, to the north of what was the North Tower, you can see the skeletal remains really of the Vista Hotel, which was -- again, it's a building that from this vantage point looks black, slightly shrouded in smoke, and in fact, every so often you can see a new gust of smoke coming up from that. That was a building that sustained some serious damage back when the World Trade Center was -- the bombing of the World Trade Center back in 1993. Now, just the skeletal remains of it.

Just behind that -- I'm not quite sure how cameras can pick it up, but again shrouded in the smoke is where Five World Trade center would be, and that's a building there is a lot of speculation about what's going on with that, concern that it has sustained a lot of structural damage to that.

And I want to just sort of pan a little bit to the right here, or to the west, you can see in what was a street, in the middle of that street, you can see a structure that connects, again, what was the Vista Hotel to the right of our picture, to the west, and that is a bridge that connected much of the traffic from the World Trade Center, from the two towers, I should say, over to the World Financial Center. Rescue workers and some structural engineers mentioned to us today that they actually took down, purposely took down that structure, because it was so uneven and obviously not firm, and they didn't want to cause any more damage and cause too much more risk to the rescue workers there.

And moments ago -- I don't know whether our camera can pick it up now, I don't really see it anymore, but you could see flames sort of shooting out every so often, and they looked like they were flames produced by weldings, welding machines. Obviously, they are trying to -- one must speculate is what they are doing is they are trying to make this area as comfortable as possible for the rescue worker in there, trying to parcel out as much of this wreckage and get it out of here so that there is much more room for the workers to maneuver.

Just to the right of that, this tall building to the right, which again I mentioned was the World Financial Center, the home of American Express, a beautiful building down here in Lower Manhattan. Some engineers were telling us that this is a building that has some major questions as well. In fact, they went as far as to tell us they are very concerned. You can see the beautiful glass on it -- that some of this glass is not safe, and they may very well have to remove it. If you can imagine this, each single one of those windows, for fear of having those windows fall on their own, and therefore cause even more damage and injury to the people who are working the scene.

BROWN: Michael, I want to interrupt you here, OK? The pictures are extraordinary. The FBI is briefing now in Pennsylvania, and we want to take that.



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