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Cleanup Crews Ahead of Schedule at WTC

Posted on Fri, 25 Jan 2002 13:15:09 GMT

photoWritten by Becky Orfinger, Staff Writer, DisasterRelief.org, with news reports

In September, the monumental task of cleaning up the debris that once was the World Trade Center was predicted to last at least a year. But now, about four months since the terrorist attack that leveled the skyscrapers, cleanup workers at Ground Zero say their job will be finished by this summer. The $1 billion cost estimate for the entire cleanup is also significantly lower than initial calculations that were as high as $7 billion. Since day one, crews have worked around the clock — despite wintry weather, holidays and the horror and sadness of the task.

More than 1 million tons of debris have been transported from Ground Zero, according to the Associated Press. Workers have attributed the rapid pace of the cleanup efforts to the so-far mild New York City winter and longer shifts. With so much international attention paid to the disaster site itself, many workers say that they feel obligated to victims' families to stay ahead of schedule on the cleanup project.

Viewing line
Thousands of tourists line up every day to get a glimpse of Ground Zero.
"It's been a huge, emotional effort," Kenneth Holden, the commissioner of New York City's Department of Design and Construction and the man in charge of Ground Zero cleanup efforts, told The New York Times.

"We want to show the world we know how to get back to work and move ahead to rebuild the greatest city in the world. That's a powerful motivator."

The Ground Zero cleanup is the single largest excavation job ever in American history. In addition to the challenge of removing tons of debris, the workers must check every bucket of dirt and concrete for human remains. Construction workers say the emotional meaning attached to the cleanup has changed the way this type of job is usually done, and removed the corruption that plagues much of the New York City construction industry.

"Nobody is nickel-and-diming anybody," Gary La Barbera, the president of a local Teamsters union that was recently cited for its mob connections, told the media. "We are pulling together. There's a sense of pride and Americanism, and setting an example for the rest of the country. The eyes of the world are upon us."

Despite the magnitude of the excavation job at the World Trade Center site — and the long hours being put in by workers — the number of injuries on the job has remained surprisingly low, perhaps due to the gravity of the task. "There is a need to get the family members back," Sam Young, an ironworker, told the New York Times. Wreckage
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attack, the task of cleaning up appeared enormous. Enough progress has already been made so that the end is in sight.

"You can't exactly stand around and smoke cigarettes. There are a lot of cops and firemen standing around watching you. You don't want to look like a bum."

Workers and government officials alike acknowledge that an extra degree of flexibility by all involved has helped keep the Ground Zero cleanup on track. Construction unions have allowed their members to work long shifts — sometimes 12 hours a day, seven days a week — and city officials have helped remove barriers that could have slowed down the pace of the work.

The reopening of a recently closed landfill in Staten Island to accommodate piles of debris from the site is an example of this type of flexibility. The Army Corps of Engineers also removed the usual hurdles involved in securing an environmental impact statements for the area around the site.

Much of the steel debris that isn't in landfills is heading to China, where engineers there will turn it into steel plates. The outer skeleton of the twin towers was made from steel beams up to two feet thick in some places.

Much of the steel from the destroyed World Trade Center will be recycled.
The Beijing Youth Daily reported that the Shanghai-based Baosteel Group Corporation bought 50,000 tons of steel scrap from the United States. Four scrap steel shipments have also arrived in India, where workers there will recycle it for use by various industries.

Ground Zero excavation manager Holden told AP that one of his biggest challenges in the coming months will be to coordinate with those heading rebuilding efforts at the site. The New York City Transit Authority is eager to begin repairing subway tunnels damaged in the terrorist attack, he said, and the developer of the site wants to begin planning for construction of a memorial to the victims.

"As the site becomes less and less of a disaster area, and more of a reconstruction area, more and more people will be wanting to move in on it," said Holden. "That's great, and the way it should be."

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