Checking lists for missing

Search: Everything else goes on hold as friends and family members hunt for loved ones.

Terrorism Strikes America

New York City

September 13, 2001|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK - Grasping photographs and ever-slimmer straws of hope, family and friends of those missing since the World Trade Center attack spent much of yesterday going from hospital to hospital in a desperate search for loved ones.

With phone lines hopelessly overburdened and information on victims scarce, New Yorkers did what they inevitably must do when they want something in the city: get in line and check the list.

In this case, it was neither a line for show tickets nor the guest list for a new club. Rather, it was a line outside hospitals such as New York University's Bellevue Hospital Center, and the list had the names of people taken there for treatment after the attack.

Sadly, though, not many in various lines around the city - which grew into the hundreds as the day went on and the afternoon sun blazed hotter - would find what they were looking for.

There are far fewer names on the lists compiled by hospitals than the estimated thousands in the towers when they were hit by hijacked airlines and collapsed Tuesday morning.

"We don't see his name on the list, but I think their list is a half-day behind," Lenny Truscello said hopefully after failing to find his brother-in-law's name on Bellevue's list.

"You gotta keep faith," he said as he headed to the next hospital in search of his brother-in-law, Paul Carioli, who has not been heard from since he went to a business meeting in one of the World Trade Center towers Tuesday morning.

The lines that formed yesterday offered a poignant look at how completely Tuesday's devastation cut across all lines in the city.

Whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics, young and old, bearing babies and the elbows of elderly bent with age and despair - they were looking for stockbrokers, food-service workers, corporate vice presidents, mothers, husbands, aunts, sons, cousins and friends.

Many were red-eyed from a sleepless night and endless tears, clutching crumpled bits of paper on which they had written phone numbers and addresses that they had heard or seen in the media for where they might get assistance.

Many also bore photographs - from vacations and family parties - hoping someone would recognize them.

But this, of course, is no ordinary missing-person situation. These missing are not wandering somewhere far from home.

They are either in the hospital and unable to pick up the phone and call home or, well, the other options are too awful for most of those in line to say out loud.

As long as there are lists to check, and double-check, many are hoping against hope that they will find their friends or relatives alive even as the number of admissions to the hospital has slowed to a trickle compared to the initial flood of victims brought in the first day.

Doctors and nurses who had been rushing from gurney to gurney Tuesday were standing yesterday in the doorways of hospitals, their stretchers and wheelchairs empty and waiting for any new victims extracted from the wreckage of the towers.

At Bellevue, there were 47 victims still in the hospital yesterday afternoon of the 250 initially admitted in the wake of the attack. Which meant that most in the line of relatives and friends would not find their missing intimates on the hospital's list.

They were referred to centers set up by the city, helping them to fill out missing-persons reports and otherwise provide information that might ultimately help them find their relatives.

At one site, the New School in Greenwich Village, they found another line of hundreds. It also placed them just blocks away from where the ghostly remains of the towers seem very nearby, framed as they were by the arch of Washington Square.

"The family is trying to keep some hope, but I'm afraid something did happen," said Carlos Urquia, who was waiting at the New School as other family members spread out to various hospitals in search of his aunt, an employee at the Port Authority's offices at the trade center.

Many seemed grateful that someone would listen to them, ask their relative or friend's name, look at their photographs and give them something to do besides sit at home and wait for the phone to ring.

They covered the bases as best they could - contacting employers, co-workers, hospitals and the various hot lines and Web sites that have emerged as impromptu bulletin boards.

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, for example, has established a hot line both for the 3,500 employees based at the World Trade Center to call in and leave their name to let friends and family know that they are OK, and for relatives and friends of missing workers to find out what they can.

But spokeswoman Diana Quintero said it is too early to provide complete information. "We're still in the midst of trying to account for everyone," she said. "In the first few hours of something like this, no one knows anything. It is complete chaos.

"But we're trying to get everything in place for the time when that information does come available."

Many are trying to work every angle. Even while standing in line, people seemed to be continually on their cell phones, seeing what could be gained there. "I'm not proud," one woman was overheard saying, "I'm calling in every favor now."

Richard Smith tried both Bellevue and the New School, looking for his wife's brother, Morty Frank, who worked in the equities department of a financial firm on the 104th floor of one of the towers.

He had already checked the company and its Web site, a hot-line number he heard Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani give out on television and yet another number someone at Bellevue had given him.

And still, nothing.

"It's just terrible. You're in shock about the whole ordeal," Smith said, waving his arms as if to encompass the coordinated terrorist attack on the country from New York to Washington. "And you have your own little tragedy to deal with."

His friend Eric Bender nodded."You're just," Bender said, searching for the right word, "lost."

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