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Crews Assist Rescuers in Massive WTC Search

Wed September 26, 2001 - Northeast Edition
Pete Sigmund

When I first saw the towers of the World Trade Center collapse in smoke and flame, I was somehow emotionally detached, as if I were covering a story rather than feeling the tragedy of people dying.

Then the phone rang. My brother John. “Johanna worked on the 93rd floor of the first tower which was hit. She usually got to work early. I’m afraid we’ve lost her.”

Johanna was my beautiful, always smiling and happy, auburn-haired niece, 25. The tragedy was suddenly real. I now feel the pain for Johanna and the more than 5,650 other victims.

I’ve interviewed dealers, contractors, and trade associations about how the construction industry is responding to the trade center search, rescue, and, ultimately, recovery and rebuild effort. I’ve realized that their hearts (and wallets) are right at Ground Zero, the disaster site. Emotionally detached? Not this or most Americans.

“I’ve been getting calls from chapters all over the U.S. willing to donate equipment, but authorities say they cant use them at this point in the search and rescue effort,” said A.J. Castelbuono, executive director of the New York State Chapter, Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) in Albany, NY.

“As big a disaster as it is, there is limited room to move and work equipment, even though there are a lot of contractors in New York City with big pieces of equipment which wouldn’t be available in smaller cities. Everyone is so frustrated. They want to help but can’t. At this point, its like ’Sit and hold tight.’ ”

The reason for a slower pace is that a full-scale demolition effort can’t start until officials decide there is no longer any chance of finding survivors. More than 5,400 people are listed as missing. Heavy equipment must be used very carefully so that it won’t destabilize the piles of rubble above where the two towers pancaked, and won’t fall through underground cavities where foodcourts and stores were located near the perimeter of the buildings.

Painstaking Search

The search-and-rescue operation is expected to conclude by about Sept. 26, according to sources interviewed by Construction Equipment Guide. It will be succeeded by a full-scale recovery operation lasting many months and involving much equipment.

The Ground Zero debris field includes a footprint about four city blocks square where the North Tower, the South Tower, 3 World Trade Center (Marriott Hotel), and 7 World Trade Center fell to the ground. An area roughly two blocks around the footprint at first was 2-to-6-ft. deep in rubble. Dust has extended another four to five blocks on all sides.

“I call the footprint where the towers fell the Heart of Darkness,” said Joe Carsky, chief engineer for Tully Construction Co. Inc., Flushing, NY, one of the prime contractors on the excavation and demolition for the New York Department of Design and Construction (DDC). “The towers fell through six stories of basement so there’s really a concrete well 60 or 70 ft. deep covering four blocks. We’re looking for a ray of light, a life, within that Heart of Darkness.

“From the outside, the footprint looks like mountainous terrain, huge piles on the site of both towers and big cavities, basement areas over 30 ft. wide, between them. There is still so much hope out there. Everyone keeps on until someone stops us.

“The search operation is really a fireman’s operation. They may send 60 firemen down inside with ropes to explore at extremely high risk. I’m surprised none have lost their lives since the disaster.” Carsky said at least 1,000 construction and rescue personnel, plus at least another 2,000 support people, are at Ground Zero. Tully alone has 150 workers on two 12-hour shifts. Another 250 Tully subcontractors also are participating.

The rescue effort is reverently careful. When someone is found, fire and police department personnel move in and work by hand, transferring material with remains in containers.

So many volunteers have offered help that some have had to be turned away. Rescue personnel include police and firefighters from as far away as California, hundreds of ironworkers, and others. The New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) directs the rescue effort, aided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which contributed eight search-and-rescue teams, and by the New York State Emergency Management Office.

“It has been amazing; I can’t believe how many volunteers there are,” said Ron Moskowitz, senior project engineer for Gateway Demolition Corp., Flushing, NY, which is working under subcontract to Bovis Lend Lease, another prime general contractor for DDC.

“Besides the rescue workers, there are many others who bring food, clothing and beverages. Tons of relief supplies are everywhere.”

The four prime contractors to the city, and their sectors for the search, are Tully (south and east side), and Bovis, Turner Construction Co./Plaza Construction Co., both of New York, and AMEC (north and west sides). AMEC is the former Morse Diesel Group.

Other contractors include Seasons Contracting Inc., North Bergen, NJ, which is doing the rescue-related and subsequent demolition/clean up on Building 7 of the center, under subcontract to Turner.

“After the first terrorist aircraft hit Building 1 (the North Tower), a triage unit of doctors and nurses was established in Building 7, which is on the same plaza, and which started treating injured people,” said Bill Singley, the company’s project manager for the search. “They thought they were safe but, when the tower fell, it was like sand going every direction; it crushed the triage unit. It also set Building 7 on fire, and it subsequently also collapsed. Building 7 is still on fire.”


An estimated 25 cranes and 35 excavators, equipped with attachments like grapples, worked for the first week from the perimeters of the tower-piles. The cranes reached over the huge piles of steel and rubble, lifting beams, and dropped debris to the excavators, which fed loaders for about 60 demolition trailers which were constantly being filled and moved away. The rubble usually goes to the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.

By Sept. 18, one week after the tragedy, the New York Department of Sanitation had moved more than 60,000 tons (54,000 t) of debris in 4,554 truckloads. The compacted material at the 16-acre site totals an estimated 1.2-million tons (1 million t). This initial effort, which is mostly cutting and lifting, rather than digging, has put construction workers and volunteers at risk.

“The excavators and other heavy equipment have been on the perimeter, rather than at the collapse site, because there’s an eight-story parking garage and other cavities underneath which could collapse,” said Ron Moskowitz, senior project manager for Gateway Demolition, which is gutting the inside of a building south of the South Tower, before bracing it for stability. “We also can’t shake the site or neighboring buildings. Everyone has to be very careful.”

“Some of the cavities on the perimeter of the basement level, 100 ft. away from the footprint, are still intact, and could possibly provide water to any survivors,” said Tully Constructions Joe Carsky. “Because these cavities could collapse under heavier weight, the effort has been using smaller 50-ton cranes and equipment like 235 backhoes with grapples to move debris on all four sides.”

Carsky said contractors have proceeded forward from north, south, east and west until equipment reached the former faces of the towers, where heavier cranes can begin lifting material from the huge piles.

Engineers carefully studied the structural elements beneath the perimeter, particularly on the East face, to be sure heavier cranes don’t collapse the supports. Carsky said this has required building some structural steel support platforms. Large 350-ton (315 t) cranes with 400-ft. (122 m) reach are now to operate from bases at the face of footprint. Equipment is to now also include heavier 320 and 345B Caterpillar excavators, the latter with long 60-ft. (18 m) reaches.

Hundreds of other pieces of construction equipment, the most advanced in the world, have meanwhile been assembled in the staging areas, and in lower Manhattan, primarily for use, if needed, in the recovery (demolition) operation after all hope is lost for finding survivors. These range from cranes to backhoe loaders, cherry pickers, and trucks.

“Just tons of yellow machines are lined down entire streets near the blocked-off disaster site,” said my son, Mark, who went to New York to search for Johanna, to whom he was very close. “In the nearby area, you can’t get away from faces of innocent victims who were killed. Their pictures are everywhere, on phone booths, street lights, walls of subway stations. Everything reminded me of a huge funeral, people quiet and sad, but also very nice. Before, New York gave me a cold feeling; now people were reaching out to help each other.”

Dealers Respond

Pat Ahern, president of Edward Ehrbar Inc., an equipment distributor in Pelham Manor, NY, received a call, soon after the tragedy, from the New York City Department of Transportation asking that he work as closely as possible with Gateway and Tully.

“With police escort, we immediately moved a 50-ton tractor-trailer with a Komatsu 300 excavator from Pelham Manor and a 60-ton trailer with Komatsu PC600 from our Holbrook, NY, branch to a holding area on West St., about four blocks from the towers,” Ahern said. “We had them there by 4 p.m. that first day, but the excavators couldn’t be unloaded until 9 a.m. on Wednesday. A tremendous amount of equipment was lined up but it was a question of where to place it, and having room to place it. Moving equipment in a constricted area is very difficult.”

Ahern worked through the first night after the tragedy, dispatching equipment, including wheel loaders and large excavators, to staging areas, which include Brooklyn, Queens, and Shea Stadium in New York and Giants Stadium in New Jersey. The excavators were equipped with LaBounty grapples.

The loaders held multi-purpose buckets to grab debris.

“All through that first day and night, we were called by other distributors, and by most of the manufacturers, including JRB, LaBounty, and Komatsu, asking what they could do to help,” Ahern said. “The manufacturers said that if we needed any parts, they would get them to us overnight by truck, which they did. And I can’t say enough about the people who stayed here through the night handling phone calls.”

Ahern has spent several days since then right at Ground Zero, helping advise contractors on how to best utilize equipment safely and effectively.

Hoffman Equipment Inc., Piscataway, NJ, mobilized a 25-truck convoy carrying some of the company’s heavy rental equipment, including cranes, excavators, grapples, wheel loaders and other machines and delivered them to the disaster area.

“We all thought the same thing at the same time,” said Tim Watters, president of Hoffman Equipment. “We just had to get those machines out of our yard and on their way to New York. The need appeared to be so desperate.”

To get it done, Watters called together the departmental operating managers and suspended all other activities in order to concentrate totally on this project. “While we were worried about finding enough tractor-trailers to transport the equipment, our concerns were groundless because we had an enormous positive response from our contractor customers who generously donated their equipment and personnel,” Watters said.

By late afternoon, the machines were ready and loaded out. One of the employees had even run out to purchase American flags which were attached to each piece of equipment. The Piscataway Police Department escorted Hoffman’s convoy to its destination.

“It was an amazing sight, with all those American flags,” said Hoffman’s Rental Manager Ed Eustice.

AmQuip Corp., Bensalem, PA, has three 300-ton (270 t) Liebherr LR1280 crawler cranes lifting debris in the “Red Zone,” the central plaza where the towers fell.

“Two of the cranes came right from jobs where we received tremendous cooperation from contractors, no questions asked,” said AmQuip President Joseph Wesley Sr. “Another was new, having just arrived at the port.”

AmQuip also has, at the site, a 22-ton (19.8 t) Grove RT422 support crane and a 110-ton (99 t) Liebherr LTM1090 working crane.

Wesley said newspapers and TV haven’t given the worst horror and devastation at the Red Zone, which he has visited and where Sales Manager Bill Pace has been advising since 5 a.m. on the day after the attack.

“I spent time in Korea, but this is hellish and horrible,” he said. “It’s unconscionable that anyone could do this to other human beings. Temperatures inside the pile are sometimes over 400 degrees. One of the fire trucks in the plaza was pushed 70 ft. down by a falling tower. I’m also so proud of our guys. They knew what was needed to support our equipment. Bill Pace has been sleeping in shelters in between round-the-clock work advising on things like the compression load of cranes.”

“It’s an hour-by-hour thing depending on what the needs are,” said Bob Murphy, sales manager for AmQuip’s crane sales. “It’s a huge and heartbreaking effort.”

Caterpillar Inc., in Peoria, IL, named special point dealers to support and aid the emergency rescue efforts. These included H.O. Penn Machinery Co. Inc., Poughkeepsie, NY; Foley Inc., Piscataway, NJ; Southworth-Milton in Massachusetts, and Alban Tractor Co., Baltimore, MD.

Because of its proximity to the scene, including a branch in the Bronx, Penn was the focal point of making Cat equipment available immediately. “We have been getting offers of equipment from all over the Northeast,” said Dennis Romanson, H.O. Penn’s general manager of machine sales at Poughkeepsie.

On the first night of the tragedy, H.O. Penn set up 50 light towers and 12 small generator sets for the New York Police Department (NYPD). During the first week, this Caterpillar dealer supplied more than 70 megawatts of temporary electric power (enough to power 35,000 homes) in emergency service, providing most of the standby power for the city’s financial, insurance and banking districts.

This involved installing more than 16 mi. (25.7 km) of cable, with 10 mi. (16 km) more on the way. The company has had 40 technicians on site, 65 on standby and 14 on logistical support.

In the emergency dealer-team response, Foley and Southworth-Milton sent in 10 crews of technicians to the disaster site, who worked around the clock installing and operating generator sets, and supporting both engines and machines. Foley’s entire engine rental fleet (nearly 70 units) is out with customers or delivered to New York City in support of H.O. Penn.

Foley Power Systems supplied Penn with 15 light towers for the NYPD, 15 XQ 2,000 generators for use by Con Edison in providing temporary power and stabilizing the power grid in Lower Manhattan. Foley also supplied generators to Penn for use at Wall St. for the opening of the stock market, Pine Street, the New York University Medical Center and Maiden Lane.

Power Systems also sent extensive equipment to customers, including 70 light towers to Con Ed, 10 light towers to Liberty State Park, four light towers and two 90-ton DX units to the Port Authority Terminal in New York, and generators to about 20 telecom and other locations.

The total power from all 110 units of emergency equipment which the Power Systems Group supplied: 47.33 megawatts. In the team effort, Foley’s Hightstown, NJ, facility was used as a staging area for equipment coming from other Caterpillar dealers around the country. Through Foley, Caterpillar delivered a 350 ultra-high excavator to the city. Caterpillar Finance owns this machine and has donated its use for the balance of the rescue operation.

A.G. Mazzocchi was awarded a major part of the demolition work. Foley’s Construction Division has supplied it with two 345 excavators equipped with shears, plus a 375 and a 365 excavator. The emergency effort includes having spare parts available for the army of equipment.

Hedco Equipment Inc., Bronx, NY, the Case Construction Equipment dealer for New York City, has received large orders for parts, like air cleaners, for the fleet of more than 100 Case wheel loaders which it has supplied to the City of New York over the past 10 years.

“The Case parts network is delivering the parts overnight,” said Stephen Cosgriff, Hedco’s product support manager. “The normal protocol had been 10 days but Case said 24 hours; if planes aren’t flying, well send them by truck. We’re making everything available which New York needs by round-the-clock hotline.”

Cosgriff said Hedco also is making parts available overnight to Con Ed and Brooklyn Union Gas Co, which use Case equipment.

Numerous other equipment distributors also are supporting the rescue and subsequent efforts.

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