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Government & Legislation

Painful Losses Mount In the Construction 'Family'

(enr.com 10/1/01)

By Richard 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.



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