On September 11, following the attack on World Trade Center, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Sacramento Debris Removal Team was put on alert.
On September 26, I was placed on the Debris Removal Team and deployed October 15 to NYC for 30 days. Tony Kittner accompanied me on the deployment. We stayed at the Hilton Hotel in upper Manhattan at 54th Street and 6th Avenue. FEMA provided a rental van for the Debris Removal teams to share. I had the 12-hour day shift and Tony had the 12 hour night shift.
Corps of Engineers Debris Removal duties at NY WTC Disaster Site, called Ground Zero, included monitoring the debris removal activities for FEMA and providing assistance to New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC). Corps personnel made daily reports to FEMA on the Debris Removal operations. The debris removal proceeded on a 24-7 basis.
Corps Debris removal duties did not include tracking trucks with debris to the disposal site at Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. DDC, NY National Guard, NYPD and several auditing firms hired by NYC tracked trucks hauling debris to the Landfill.
The one word that can be use to describe the scene is AWESOME! The size of everything was enormous. The pile of debris after 30 days of removal operations was still gigantic, over three stories high, with structural steel projecting 7-10 stories into the air. The steam, dust, noise, steel and myriad activities were larger than anything I have ever seen. Temperatures in the pile were over 1,200 °F. Every time an area was opened, fire started in any buried combustible debris. Water trucks and fire engines were used continually. The high temperature debris and water created steam. Dust contained asbestos, silica, metals, molds and mildews. We had to wear respirators continually. I even had to shave my beard.
WTC Site Management
All seven of the World Trade Center Buildings were destroyed by the terrorist attack. New York City, Department of Design and Construction (DDC) had issued letter contracts to four contractors, called Construction Managers (CM). Each CM had a zone or section of the debris removal. Each CM was controlled and monitored by a three-person DDC team with a Corps Debris Removal Team in an advisory role, only.
The Four CMs were:
NYC Department of Investigations (DOI) hired outside auditors to track labor and equipment costs and hauling costs for each of the four CM. In additional DDC hired a fifth auditor, KPMG, to track all CM costs in preparation for billing FEMA for all costs.
OSHA and EPA had monitors on site at all times. NYC had hired Bechtel as a Safety Consultant on the site in addition to OSHA and EPA. NY State and NY City also had safety and environmental monitors on the site.
Memorable Events and Lasting Impressions
The totality of the destruction of the 7 World Trade Center buildings is beyond my imagination. Massive steel buildings with concrete floors, glass and offices simply pulverized, except for the steel. Bar joists and concrete reinforcement became a tangled mess that was difficult to recognize. Deck form and concrete disappeared into dust. Offices and victims became dust and ash.
The size of the steel columns we were removing was immense. Some columns weighed almost 5,000 pounds per linear foot with interior webs 8” thick. The Copper-Magnesium cutting wands that the U.S. Army Combat Engineers introduced worked very well in cutting the immense columns into manageable pieces because of the much higher temperatures (8,000°F vs 1,200°F) for oxy/acetylene torches. This significantly improved the efficiency of the debris removal operations.
The dust and other hazardous materials from the debris required sprayers to be set up to wash all trucks exiting the site. These sprayers were also used to cool the high temperature debris before it left the site. Several trucks were returned to the site for additional cooling because the law enforcement officers would not let them through the tunnels leaving Manhattan until they stopped steaming.
The large grapples (over 8’ long fingers) on large hydraulic excavators performed well and accomplished the vast majority of the debris removal. The debris was very hard on the equipment and created severe operating conditions.
The remnants of 4WTC, 5WTC and 6WTC were demolished under lump sum low bid contracts using headache balls on large cranes Grapples moved the knocked down debris and loading it onto 30-40 cubic yard dump trucks and flat bed trailers, just like 1WTC, 2WTC, 3WTC and 7 WTC debris was removed.
I was really impressed with the Red Cross, Salvation Army, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, U. S. Army National Guard, DMAT (Disaster Medical Assistance Teams), other agencies and groups on the periphery of the site. They provided assistance all of the time and were cheerful and very helpful.
The Gumbo Krewe (Louisiana mobile kitchens) provided a couple of wonderful meals including Jambalaya, Red Beans and Rice with Sausage, and Cajun Beans.
Red Cross served delicious meals and wonderful deserts on a 24-7 basis and maintained respite areas for recovery operations personnel.
Salvation Army had hot/cold drinks, snacks and meals available 24-7 and maintained respite areas for recovery operations personnel.
Corps of Engineers Emergency Operations vests, coats, and jackets really
made us noticeable on the site. It was easy to see other Corps Debris
Removal Team members from across the site.
Editor’s note: Sacramento Team Members who provided support for New York are: Fred Martin, Russell Thorne, Tim Willard, and Roger Fulmer of Construction Operations; Paul Chapman of Information Management; and Charles Kittner of Engineering Division.