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Articulo Michael Slackman. New York Times. 11.09.03

Michael Slackman

From each of them, Sept. 11 stole something dear. The homemaker lost her husband. The scientist surrendered her sense of cool detachment. The ironworker lost touch for a time with home and family.

But the disaster also handed them the task of their lives, and two years later, all three are still hard at work in the ruins of that one day.

Dennis Telford, an apprentice ironworker who toiled through the night for months at ground zero helping clear away wreckage so that body parts could be recovered, has been part of a dwindling corps working in the hole on a new PATH station and preparing the site for its next life.

Amy Zelson Mundorff, a forensic anthropologist who scrutinized tens of thousands of those body parts, is still sorting through chunks and shards of bone and tissue, trying to link them to lost lives and help families desperate for information.

Monica Gabrielle, a suburban homemaker who never gave much thought to politics, shuttles to Washington and Albany, relentlessly pressing to find out why her husband had to die in the south tower. Why did the buildings collapse so fast? Why didn't more people escape?

They are the long-distance laborers, the marathoners, who by choice or necessity are still grappling with the disaster day after day, and who probably will for years to come.

Each is driven by a different force: the homemaker by a fierce grief and anger, the scientist by the challenge, the ironworker by his pride in belonging to a brotherhood at ground zero. But in the single-mindedness of their work, they have all felt similar moments of elation and exhaustion. At times they sense an isolation, as though they somehow joined a secret society, and only other members can understand how they feel, how they see.

Those feelings are especially strong as the second anniversary of the attack approaches. Less raw in its emotions and less programmed in its rituals than the first, the milestone invites a question: How long will that day and its damage stay with us?

People like these three may offer an answer. While their engagement with the catastrophe is intense, their response is, in the end, just an extreme version of what most everyone feels: that it will linger a long, long while.

"My hope is at some point you can make a little package of it, put it aside and look at it when you want, not have it slap you in the face and take control," Mrs. Gabrielle said. "That's going to take a long time."

Pressing for Answers

Inside the little red ranch house in West Haven, Conn., where she and her husband lived for much of their 28 years of marriage, the dining room is cluttered with packages that Monica Gabrielle still doesn't know what to do with. They are filled with items sent in condolence: a hand-painted American-flag scarf from her husband's employer, a Special Olympics medal from the governor. Lapel pins, flags and paperweights — foolish gifts, she said, and laughed a sad, bitter laugh.

Mrs. Gabrielle, 51, has little patience for feel-good sentiments. What she craves is plain talk, particularly about the death of her husband, Richard, whom she met when she was just 17. A vice president of the Aon insurance brokerage house, he was pinned down by a marble wall on the 76th floor of the south tower and could not escape before the collapse.

"He was squashed like a cockroach," she says out of the side of her mouth.

She knows exactly how that sounds — how it makes other people wince — and she says it often. She wants them to face the hard reality of what happened to her husband and the 2,791 others listed as missing at ground zero. She wants them to become as angry as she is, to join her crusade to find out why so many died.

"A lot of people say: `What do you want to know? The terrorists took the planes and hit the building,' " she said, her raspy voice sharp with sarcasm. "Well, yeah, they started it, but the buildings collapsed in less than an hour. Unless there is a full investigation we're not going to know if people are to blame."

She and a Bronx woman named Sally Regenhard head the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, a group of victims' families that helped win passage of the Construction Safety Team Act. The bill, signed into law last October by President Bush, for the first time commits a single agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to investigate disasters involving buildings — including the World Trade Center attack — and gives it subpoena power. The families' group has sued public agencies and private companies for cash damages, hoping the suits will uncover information about everything from the construction of the trade center to airline security operations.

From the moment she rises each day, Mrs. Gabrielle tries not to stop moving. It's easier that way. Armed with sorrowful blue eyes and a biting black humor, she is front and center, whether at a Congressional hearing or a news conference. "Too many failures, too few answers," is one of her favorite sound bites.

Before 9/11, she says, she did not even know who her town's mayor was. "All I cared about was, do we have money to go out and eat," she said.

And when her husband died, she lost her faith, the kind of faith people need to trust that drivers will stop at red lights, that elevators will not plummet, that skyscrapers will not crumble. For a time, she could not leave the house. Slowly, she pulled herself together and started asking questions.

She and Ms. Regenhard believe that there were deficiencies in the towers' construction and that the evacuation plan was inadequate. They want to know why emergency communication systems did not work properly that day.

"Somebody failed, and I want to know who it was, and I want to make sure they are out of their job, at least," said Mrs. Gabrielle, who sometimes sounds as if she wants revenge — and concedes that she does. "Three thousand people died, and someone needs to be held accountable."

Six months after the attack, she made a pact with herself never again to cry in public. But the turnaround has not been easy, or complete. She keeps a shrine to her husband on the dresser by her bed, and can hardly contemplate what to do with his clothing. Her daughter, Nicole, 25, leaves funny notes to cheer her up, and her mother checks in on her regularly. "You don't have to know everything, Ma," she said in one recent phone call.

At the advice of friends and family, Mrs. Gabrielle is seeing a therapist. But she is annoyed by the well-meaning friends who urge her to get on with her life.

"Yeah," she said, "Let's see how you would get on if this happened to you. I am moving on, maybe not in a normal way, but this is moving on. I'm not where I was two years ago."

Victim and Investigator

Amy Zelson Mundorff was standing near the foot of the south tower when it crashed down in a storm of debris that hurled her into a wall. She had rushed to the scene with other emergency responders to help, but instead wound up in the hospital with a concussion, cracked ribs, welts and bruises.

"On the 12th, I cried," she recalled. "On the 13th, I wanted to go to work. I couldn't sit home and think about what I had been through. I wasn't ready."

Back at work in the New York City medical examiner's office from her home in Westchester County, she found a chaotic scene — so many remains, investigators, technicians. Ms. Mundorff, her eyes still black and swollen above her surgical mask, was assigned to Table One, the triage table, the first stop for every body part found. She identified each one anatomically — was it part of a leg, a shard of shattered skull? — then gave it a number and a bar code and sealed it in a bag.

Ms. Mundorff, 34, is New York City's only forensic anthropologist. Her expertise is bones, and her job is to help determine whose they were and how the person died. If a body has been dismembered, she can usually tell if it was by handsaw or power saw. She can often tell if the deceased was arthritic or had sickle cell anemia, as well as the person's sex, height and, roughly, age.

But nothing in her six years in forensics had prepared her for the sheer number of the dead, and the extent to which the bodies were shattered. A total of 19,936 remains have been recovered, and she has examined nearly every one.

For the first year, Ms. Mundorff worked six days a week, from 7 to 7, helping to catalog them. A year later, she returned to a five-day schedule, and now has some time for other cases. But she estimates that three-quarters of her workday is still spent trying to identify remains from ground zero.

While DNA is the main tool for identification, the medical examiner relies on Ms. Mundorff's skills as a sort of quality control. Someone needs to examine every body part when it comes into the system and when it leaves. It is her job to double-check, to make sure that a relative does not get back two left feet, for example, and that the identification makes sense in anatomical terms. Old person, old bones.

She is not the squeamish type, and she loves a challenge. She became engaged to her husband, Kurt, on top of Mount Rainier in Washington. When a colleague phoned the other day to tell her he was flying to Baghdad to help identify the remains of relief workers killed in an explosion, she replied, "I get to go on the next one."

From a professional standpoint, she says, Sept. 11 gave her the opportunity of a lifetime. "If something cool happens, I have to go, that's how I am," she said, quickly adding, "Not that this was cool."

But the job posed one challenge that she resisted. For a long time, Ms. Mundorff would not answer the phone in the office's conference room because she feared it was a relative seeking information about a loved one. "I kept strictly to the remains for my own sake of stability," she said.

Part of that reluctance, she says, may stem from something else that happened on 9/11: She became a victim. It has been hard coming to terms with her own brush with death, she says.

She answers the phone now, and attends meetings of the families. To help her identifications, she learns intimate details about the victims' lives, and sorts through the snapshots of parties and weddings that relatives send in. "It makes every single victim real to us, and that was hard for us in the beginning," she said. "But it's important to remind you why, two years later, we are doing this. Some people call every week: `Have you found them yet?' "

Though her office has identified remains from more than half of the missing, about 63 percent of the body parts recovered have not been linked to a person, largely because the DNA was damaged. But the effort continues, and she plans to stick with it.

"I'll be relieved that this phase of my life is over," she said. "But I'll also be sad because I'll know there won't be people identified, and by saying it's over it's saying, `That's it' for those people."

Growing at Ground Zero

At 26, Dennis Telford is not exactly the stereotype of an ironworker. A soft-spoken man who once studied architectural engineering, he is slight, extremely polite, improbably young.

But in the last two years, he says, he has matured tremendously, having been forced to temper the thrill he gets from ironwork with the shock of working in the grimmest of settings. Mr. Telford knows he has come of age on a pile of debris that marked the end of so much for so many.

He arrived at the World Trade Center only hours after the attack and, as the work wound down over the last year, found himself one of the last ironworkers laboring there. Not a day goes by, he says, when he does not wrestle with his mixed feelings about what he found. at ground zero.

"I came across everything," he said, as his voice dropped and his eyes signaled that he didn't want to describe what it was like to see human remains. "It was disturbing. Very disturbing."

On Sept. 11, Mr. Telford was merely an apprentice, laying out tools, taking supply orders and running for coffee for his co-workers on the Manhattan Bridge when a foreman shouted the news. He drove home to Rockville Centre, on Long Island, where a mentor from his union, Local 40, phoned to say that ironworkers from all over were heading downtown to help with the rescue and cleanup. Mr. Telford did not hesitate.

A little more than a month after the attacks, he was at the center of the action — suspended five stories off the ground in a metal cage, working 12-hour shifts using something called a lance. It sliced through steel beams that had once been the ribbing of a tower.

Ironworkers are called cowboys of the sky. They build the steel skeletons that become skyscrapers, and they do it without a safety net to catch them if they fall. But for ironworkers at ground zero, bravery meant clearing away stairwells of debris so firefighters could get in to search for victims. It meant going to work every day in a place surrounded by photos of the missing.

And for Mr. Telford, it meant having to explain himself to relatives and friends who did not understand what was monopolizing his time. He was thrilled to be learning skills that might otherwise have taken years to develop, but as the days wore into weeks and months, his girlfriend complained about his time away. He, too, says he grew weary of the relentlessness of the job.

But while the job put a strain on his family, it forged new bonds. "We became like family down here," he said as he smoked a cigarette at the edge of the hole.

He stayed until he became a hooker-on, the one in the raising gang who connects a cable to a steel beam so it can be hoisted into the air by a crane. He stayed until he became a connector, the top of the ironworker food chain, who climbs up a column of steel to grab the beam as it hovers in the air, and attaches it to the structure being built. He stayed until he earned the respect he had hoped for. "Every time I see my father with his friends, he says, `This is my son the ironworker.' "

For the moment, Mr. Telford is on other jobs, waiting for new work to begin downtown. This month, he will hand in his gray union card and get a green one signaling his ascension to full-fledged ironworker. That's the card he will show when he returns to ground zero, to get back to work.

Fuente: New York Times
Fecha: 11.09.03

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