Casualties would have been much higher except for the evacuation supervised by the Fire Department City of New York (FDNY) firefighters, New York City and Port Authority police, and security people for the various companies. Their efforts saved countless lives, but they came at a high cost. The collapse of the Twin Towers caught firefighters, police, and Port Authority police by surprise. In the South Tower there were only seconds to respond to a call to evacuate. The North Tower took longer to fall, but communications were so poor that information about the collapse of the South Tower and a recall order were difficult to spread. The FDNY took the brunt of the casualties with 343. Employees of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey suffered 74 dead, and the New York City police lost 37.
Only 18 survivors of the collapse were recovered on September 11, 2001. Rescuers found 2 policemen early on the first day. Later the same day, 16 others were found. Twelve firemen, 1 policeman, and 1 civilian office worker were saved from the ruins of the North Tower. Finally, late in the day, 2 Port Authority employees were rescued from the North Tower. There were no survivors from the collapse of the South Tower.
The losses on September 11, 2001, were devastating to all these agencies. All of those looking for remains developed a special attitude toward the fallen. Port Authority police lieutenant William Keegan Jr. described it as a sacred trust that impacted psychologically those at Ground Zero.
The various New York agencies were fiercely protective of the remains of their own fallen. FDNY firefighters, New York City police, and Port Authority police wanted only their representatives to handle the bodies, or body parts. For example, once a firefighter's body was found, the body was placed in a body bag and put on an orange plastic stretcher. An American flag was then placed over the body bag. The firefighters would then have a chaplain lead them in prayer. After acknowledging the sacrifice by saluting the fallen firefighter, six firefighters would carry the stretcher several blocks to the morgue. Along the way people would stop working and take off their hard hats to show respect. The New York City police and Port Authority police treated their fallen comrades in much the same way. There has been criticism, however, that civilian remains were not treated with commensurate respect and that their remains were sometimes handled more carelessly.
Early estimates of total casualties at the World Trade Center complex ranged from thousands to as many as tens of thousands. It may be that an accurate figure will never be determined, but as of February 2005 there had been 2,749 death certificates issued by the City of New York as a result of the World Trade Center attack. Of the total of 2,749, it has been determined that 2,117 (77 percent) were males and 632 (23 percent) were females. Only 1,585 (58 percent) had been forensically identified from recovered physical remains when the identification process stopped in February 2005. Median age of the victims was 39 years with the range from 2 to 85. A total of 62 countries were represented among the dead at the World Trade Center complex. Although the overwhelming majority of the dead were American citizens, a significant number of the dead were noncitizens—exactly how many will probably never be known.
Identification of the dead has been difficult. Most of the identifications have been made from body parts, because only 293 whole bodies have been found. More than 21,000 body parts have been located and sent to the morgue for identification. More than 800 victims were identified by DNA alone. But even identification by means of DNA was difficult because the high-temperature fire and changes in temperature caused DNA tissues to deteriorate. Fierce fires and pressure from collapsing buildings made it difficult for scientists to extract usable DNA. This fact meant that the doctors had to experiment with ways to preserve tissue for DNA analysis.
The official date for closure on identifying victims of September 11 was in the middle of February 2005. The New York City medical examiner's office began notifying families that they had been unable to identify their loved ones. In an attempt to identify victims in the future, nearly 10,000 unidentified parts have been freeze-dried and vacuum-sealed for preservation and placed in a memorial.
Although official identification operations have ceased, body parts continue to be found. More than 750 remains, most less than 1/16th of an inch in length, have been found at the former Deutsche Bank building, while approximately 300 were discovered near or under a haul road along West Street. In June 2010, 72 human remains were uncovered after sifting through 800 cubic yards of Ground Zero debris. Conclusive identification, however, remains difficult.
Stephen E. Atkins
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