NY Daily News - October 22, 2006


The exhaustive search for human remains at Ground Zero somehow missed several key areas - an oversight that may have kept scores of 9/11 families from having a true burial of their loved ones' remains.

Two multistory office buildings next to Ground Zero and many underground chambers around the site never underwent a thorough search, a Daily News investigation has found.

The recent find of a "mother lode" of bones beneath a service road next to West St. gives hope to families who never recovered any remains, but also calls into question just how thorough the government-supervised search for human remains at Ground Zero was.

The search began the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the World Trade Center and continued through mid-October 2002. Multiple agencies were involved, although the Fire Department handled most of the task.

After the first week, the FDNY began using GPS devices to record where remains were found, enabling it to track where had been searched and what needed to be searched. The scope of the task was overwhelming. There were 2,749 dead, and more than 20,000 human remains were ultimately recovered. To date, 1,150 of those killed have not been identified.

And it's now apparent that remains were somehow missed.

This first became clear with the former Deutsche Bank at 130 Liberty St., a 40-story skyscraper ripped open by the collapsing south tower that was declared searched and clean in 2002.

FDNY spokesman James Long said for 10 days that June, two search teams went through 130 Liberty from the roof to the ground. "We didn't dismantle; we didn't sift through. We didn't look in air ducts, that kind of thing," he said. "Nothing was discovered. We never went back in there."

More than three years later, in September last year, construction crews found bones on the roof. A thorough search then discovered more than 700 bone fragments on the roof.

A state official recently predicted no more human remains would be found there, but a source familiar with its ongoing deconstruction says two spots - the fifth-floor mechanical room and the lobby - are expected to yield more.

The FDNY data tracking where human remains were found shows that the underground spot by West St. - a manhole where remains were found Thursday - yielded nothing during the initial searches.

Between Con Edison and Verizon, there are 20 such manholes under the service road next to West St., according to the Port Authority. The area where these manholes are located was graded and backfilled in early March 2002 and was paved over beginning March 9 of that year, city officials said.

At the same time, FDNY records show rescue workers searching right around the area of the service road and finding a handful of mostly civilian remains.

However, Con Ed spokesman Mike Clendenin said there's no indication the utility was ever asked to search the vaults underneath the manholes. Verizon officials said they were looking into whether their manhole vaults were searched.

Meanwhile, two other buildings - Fiterman Hall on the north side of The Pit and 130 Cedar St. on the south side - have never been thoroughly searched for human remains, records show.

Both received a visual inspection from the Fire Department, but remain off-limits five years later because they still contain toxic dust from the collapse of the towers. Both buildings are bizarre testaments to the disaster, frozen in time, their facades ripped by the collapsing towers, their interiors clogged with Trade Center dust.

Fiterman, which is owned by the state Dormitory Authority, has been off-limits because of a fight over how much insurance firms would pay for the cleanup.

"We have no knowledge of anyone ever searching the interior of Fiterman Hall for human remains," said Claudia Hutton, spokeswoman for the Dormitory Authority.

She said a search involving the city medical examiner is expected to begin in the spring before the state begins taking the building down.

Then there's 130 Cedar St. The collapsing south tower chopped a huge hole in the top of the building, showering its roof and interior with debris. The building was given a visual search by the Fire Department shortly after the attacks, then revisited by a team supervised by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. On its Albany St. side, FEMA spray-painted in orange an "X" with the word "plane" because parts of a plane were found inside. The eerie sign remains.

An official familiar with the search of 130 Cedar St. said the building was clogged with debris during the Sept. 16, 2001, search. But when the city and federal regulators entered the building in August, much of the debris was gone, leaving only the toxic dust.

The city has no record that the debris was searched, and no record of where it went. Because it likely contained asbestos, the owners applied for a permit to do abatement, but as far as the city is concerned, the abatement never occurred.

A shroud covers the building from top to bottom. The owner, Cedar & Washington Assoc., LLC, recently met with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to draft a plan to demolish part of the building.

Christopher Colbourne, a spokesman for the owner, did not respond to questions about what happened to the debris.

There are indications that debris was also removed from other buildings near Ground Zero without being searched for human remains.

A source familiar with the cleanup of 119 Cedar St. said the Fire Department did a visual search looking for "large pieces" of human remains, but debris was dumped by the private contractor supervised by the city before it could be thoroughly searched. "They looked for anything bigger than a bread box," said the source. "Everything else was considered contaminant."

At 90 West St., a building heavily damaged by the plane that blasted through the north tower and then by the collapsing south tower, FDNY data show several body parts were found on the roof and in the parapets, but a source familiar with the interior renovation said debris inside was never searched systematically.

"Where did all that debris go?" the source asked. "Where did all those potential pieces go?"