Painful Losses Mount In the Construction 'Family'
Korman with Debra Rubin
If anyone would have been heartbroken over
the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, it would have
been Frank De Martini. An architect who worked as the complex's
construction manager, supervising renovations and repairs, De Martini
took special pleasure in the buildings. He is one of 72 still-missing
employees of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey following
the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He is also one of dozens of members
of the construction industry "family" who were lost in
New York and Washington, D.C., that day.
De Martini had first worked at the twin towers when engineer Leslie
E. Robertson Associates hired him to assess damage after the terrorist
bomb blast of 1993. He did such a good job that the port authority
hired the 49-year-old New Jersey native to do the job as a staff
member. He was based in an office on the 88th floor of the north
tower. He recently gave a tour of the towers to students from his
old high school. "He loved the structure's massiveness and
always pointed out that there was a big subgrade complex that was
a city of its own," says his wife, Nicole, who is also an architect.
The hardest hit construction firm was Washington Group International
and other companies working on the 91st floor in the south tower.
Thirteen employees currently are unaccounted for. But smaller companies
suffered, too. Rocco Medaglia, a construction supervisor for locally
based G.M.P. Inc., was finishing a renovation on an upper floor
and is missing. And a staffer of the Falls Church, Va.-based Plumbing-Heating-Cooling
Contractors National Association, Norma Khan, died on board American
Airlines Flight 77 when it struck the Pentagon.
Building trade unions took a particularly hard hit in the New
York attacks. Six painters and seven carpenters are missing in New
York City and a total of 16 active members of the electrical workers'
Local 3 are missing, too, says Ray Melville, assistant business
manager. Six laborers also are missing. Some who survived, like
laborers Local 79 shop steward Phil Morelli, are distraught over
the loss of so many co-workers and friends. Morelli was saved because
he was working at ground level when the plane hit.
The jet that struck the Pentagon passed dangerously close to electrical
workers busy renovating one of the building's wedges. Mickey Bell,
an onsite foreman for Singleton Electric Co., Gaithersburg, Md.,
was thrown to the ground by the blast as he was walking from the
project trailer, the jet missing him by about 100 ft. In shock,
Bell got in his truck, sped away and wandered around Arlington,
Va., trying to make phone calls. When he returned to Singleton's
headquarters two hours later, he didn't remember much, says President
Jack Singleton. Co-workers found rivets from the plane imbedded
in Bell's truck.
Many of the port authority's staff in New York City, however,
did not escape. They apparently include civil engineer Susan Miszkowicz,
37, who had worked on the 64th floor of north tower. She was working
on the project to build a high-rise office building above the Port
Authority Bus Terminal near Times Square. She remains missing.
In the minutes after the first plane struck just above his office,
De Martini helped organize an evacuation by rounding up staff as
debris, fire and smoke turned the floor into a scene one survivor
described as "Dante's Inferno." But both he and Nicole
had great confidence in the soundness of the structure. After locating
a safe stairway, De Martini dispatched many on the floor, including
Nicole, who was visiting that morning.
As Nicole and others made their way out, De Martini hung back
to look after some other people. She pleaded with him to come but
he refused, and she walked home to Brooklyn. The next day Nicole
told her children that their father had not been heard from.
The De Martinis posted leaflets with Frank's photo, hoping someone
had news of what had happened to him. Thousands of other grief-stricken
New York-area families did the same, blanketing walls that became
memorials to the missing. As the sad reality became apparent, Nicole
discussed Frank's decision to stay behind. Once she was on her way
out, Frank knew his children would be cared for no matter what happened,
Nicole says. His knowledge of the building probably made him feel
responsible for helping. De Martini phoned for engineers to come
inspect the structure and called his sister to say he was ok. He
was last seen aiding the evacuation on the 78th floor.