A View from Ground Zero
[Originally published in Student Leadership Journal, September 2011.]
I was there.
Yesterday I joined my father as a clergy volunteer at Ground Zero. As soon as the second plane had hit the Twin Towers on Tuesday, while the area was being evacuated, my dad had driven to the scene on his motorcycle and had spent all day, until 4:00 the next morning, praying with rescue workers, helping dig through rubble, and volunteering his services however possible. Wednesday morning, CBS interviewed him around 10 a.m., during which time he explained how, to his knowledge, he was the only clergyman on site on Tuesday, and one of only two clergymen overnight. In response, Governor Pataki made arrangements Wednesday afternoon for clergy volunteers to have easier access to the site to provide spiritual support and grief counseling to the rescue workers. I was one of the reinforcements who gained access in that capacity. I will be returning this morning.
The magnitude of the devastation in Lower Manhattan cannot be described. The obvious reference points for the news media have been the collapsed buildings, and indeed they should be, but debris from the combined 220 story towers literally traveled for blocks, crashing into other buildings, causing fires, smashing windows and facades, and crushing vehicles all along the way. The rubble appears endless, the fire damage impossible to comprehend. The images are totaly surreal; imagine the facade of one of the icons of the United States standing, partially intact, across the street from where that icon once stood. Everything looks fake, so much so that the destruction looks like the special effects from a very bad movie.
The two most dangerous obstacles to the rescue effort appear to be the seemingly endless supply of debris, and the instability of the remaining buildings surrounding the area. 220,000 tons of steel is a lot of steel to remove, and until it much of it is moved, it's nearly impossible to dig for survivors. Compounding the trouble is the intense heat buried within the mountains of steel. Whenever something is moved fresh oxygen beathes on the smoldering cinders causing them to reignite, so fires continue to rage.
The instability of surrounding buildings hampered our efforts for hours yesterday. I was standing on top of what used to be the south tower along with hundreds of rescue personnel when the person at the far end of the line shouted for body bags. Then they called for buckets and shovels and a fire hose and a torch to cut the steel and panels of ply wood. Before the two hundred or so men and women that comprised his assembly line were able to pass all of the supplies, the three horn alarm sounded that something was in danger of collapsing. Within seconds a human stampede or fire men and police officers and steel workers and others came charging off the mountain to safer ground across the street, right in front of One Liberty Plaza.
Twenty minutes later the alarm sounded again. One Liberty Plaza had cracked and part of it collapsed. Quickly fear that the entire 60 story structure would cave drove hundreds of rescue workers north and south. Ultimately the cops moved everyone North to Chambers Street (about five or six blocks) for hours while engineers evaluated the safety of the area.
Please continue to keep the rescue effort, victims, and their loved ones in your prayers. The healing process is undoubtedly going to be long, and your commitment is required for the long haul. Thank you for your faithfulness and ongoing support.
Jeremy Del Rio
To see how Jeremy's life changed following 9/11, goÂ here.