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America's New War: Rescue Workers Continue to Attack Wreckage

Aired September 18, 2001 - 06:41   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: It has been exactly a week, as you've been saying. And every time we go to ground zero in New York City, it still astonishes all of us how these rescue workers can just plug away day after day.

CNN's Alessio Vinci is at ground zero right now. He's been working all night long covering this story.

Alessio, what is giving these rescue workers any hope at all that there might be somebody alive down there?

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, what they think is that underneath the World Trade Center, there underneath the seven- level basement, that there might be the possibility that when the two towers came down collapsing in that huge space underneath the World Trade Center there might be some air pockets, perhaps some places where either large pieces of concrete may have kept the weight of the collapsing towers. Underneath the basement, of course, there were some shopping malls, there were some restaurants. And therefore some of the rescue officials here say that it is conceivable, although unlikely, that perhaps there some people may still be found alive, because they had access, for example, to some water and food.

Of course, no new survivor has been pulled out of here overnight. As a matter of fact, there have been no additional survivors here since last Wednesday, and many of the rescue workers here are really trying -- are really getting tired of digging and digging and digging without really any apparent success.

LIN: Alessio, the mood out there has changed dramatically, hasn't it, in the last week?

VINCI: I wouldn't say it has changed dramatically. But remember, here in the first hours and days of the rescue operation, we saw a lot of people, a lot of volunteers coming here on the ground trying to help out, trying to do anything to pull out survivors from the rubble. That's when the first and last five people had been pulled out alive. Ever since then, they have been digging. They only thing they've been finding so far: 201 confirmed dead people of which only 66 have been identified. A number of missing people are still a staggering 5,422, meaning that it is possible still that perhaps even 5 or 10 of those 5,000 plus people missing still be found alive.

But I'm telling you, a lot of the rescue officials, even the rescue workers, are telling us that, yes, in the back of their mind there is still hope, but it would be really a miracle now to find somebody alive out of this.

LIN: There is a fire commander out there, who is the one person who is going to make the decision between -- or rather about shifting the official status of this investigation out there from -- one from rescue to a status of recovery.

That is a technical matter. Yesterday, he was saying that it's a heartbreaking decision that he might have to make, because by shifting it to a recovery operation, they are basically saying they think all hope is lost.

Do you know how close they are to making that decision, and what the impact of that decision would be on the ground there -- on the work being done there?

VINCI: Well, it's difficult to say how close they are making that decision, and I do believe what the officials here are trying to do is trying to keep perhaps those two operations going together perhaps in some sections of the area that has been collapsed going in and continuing to do a rescue operation. And in some other areas perhaps begin the so-called recovery operation.

I think it is, as you said, a very tough decision for the officials here, also because there are still a lot of people here, as I said, the rescue workers, but of course, the family members who still have hope. And I think this country at this time one week after this terrible disaster still needs to believe that underneath this pile of rubble, there might be some people alive. And it is this kind of hope that is bringing the people together and trying to continue in this really very difficult digging operation.

We've been speaking to rescue workers all night long, and they are telling us, you know, there's still fire up there. It is extremely difficult for those rescue workers and the firemen to walk on the rubble, which is extremely slippery. It is a big mix-max of concrete, twisted metal. And so what really keeps them going is the fact that there is still hope.

There is another thing that has to be said: There are still a lot of missing firemen underneath that rubble. Those were the people who went inside the tower when the first plane had impacted. And a lot of people here know that they still have friends or even relatives underneath that pile of rubble. They would like to find even the bodies of those people.

So a lot of really emotions here in this rescue operation, and therefore, it is unlikely that a tough decision will be made anytime soon about changing this operation from a rescue operation to a recovery operation.

LIN: Yes. And, Alessio, we've been able to actually diagram really what might very well be a picture of hope for our audience. We're showing the underground section, this unknown section of about 75 feet, about 6 or 7 stories underneath, where the subway ran, where there was an underground train track. And these are the levels that these rescuers are saying might actually hold pockets of air where people might have been able to hide themselves or at least survive for a few more days.

VINCI: Yes, they haven't got to those levels yet, and there is a concern, of course, that if they go too deep in there by using heavy machinery, then the walls would eventually collapse into those air pockets.

But there is one thing I would like to share with you, Carol. You know, in 1998, I was in Kenya when the U.S. Embassy there was bombed, and there was a search-and-rescue operation that went on for two weeks. And after a while, it became a recovery operation. And then all of a sudden, one early morning, a woman called Rosa was found alive from those big piles of rubble. And she was telling the people when she came out -- and she looked in pretty good condition considering that she had spent two weeks underneath the rubble. She said that she had kept herself alive, because her body was close to a water pipe, and she was able to drink a little bit of water while she was underneath that rubble.

So as you say, in those situations, there is always even a miracle that is possible. And again, as I said earlier, a lot of people here still hope that this is possible.

LIN: All right. Well, you've seen it yourself, Alessio, anything can happen. Thank you so much -- Alessio Vinci live from ground zero in New York City.

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