Hurry was for 9/11 families, Bloomberg says of cleanup

Renewed Ground Zero search continues to produce human remains

October 25, 2006|By Bryan Virasami | Bryan Virasami,NEWSDAY

NEW YORK -- In defending claims that the post-Sept. 11 search for human remains at the World Trade Center site were halted prematurely in 2002, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday that the cleanup was rushed because family members were eager to recover remains of loved ones.

"The families really wanted to get any remains back as quickly as possible. If you think about a family member, they don't know whether their loved one will be found, and we try to work as expeditiously as possible," Bloomberg said.

Since Con Edison workers discovered remains Thursday, believed to be those of victims, family members have called for construction to stop at the site and urged the city to request federal help with the new search.

At a Brooklyn news conference yesterday, Bloomberg also dismissed allegations that a retired police commander urged the city in the spring of 2002 to continue the search but was overruled.

Since Thursday, more than 130 pieces of human remains have been discovered in underground utility manholes, including 36 bone fragments recovered yesterday. The first remains found Thursday were in a manhole on the western edge of a haul road between Vesey Street and Liberty Street.

The search was temporarily halted Monday night because of concerns about the air quality. Tests came back negative, Bloomberg said.

Deputy Mayor Edward Skyer, who is heading the search effort, said that the plan is to examine seven manholes and three service boxes on the haul road.

The agency in charge of the excavation, the Department of Design and Construction, was applauded for its efficiency in 2002 after it whisked away the 10-story pile of trade center rubble in less than a year.

"Were we under time pressure? Absolutely," Bloomberg said yesterday. "I don't know any family member that didn't want to find out whatever they could about the loved one that they lost. And we did it as fast as we could, consistent with safety and completeness."

Some victims' relatives dismissed the mayor's explanation for the quick cleanup.

"It had very little to do with the families," said Monica Gabrielle, who has no identified remains of her husband, Richard. "This is another spin - it's a diversion away from the issue, which is that management failed, not the workers. And management needs to be held accountable."

Among the officials who said they raised objections during the nine-month recovery effort was Lt. John McArdle, Ground Zero commander for the New York Police Department.

"There came a point in time when they said, `We gotta try to wrap this up,' and they tried to expedite it as much as possible, and they jumped the gun, and now you have all of these families hurt, and they're finding all these body parts," he said.

By late yesterday, Skyler said workers had sifted through material from one manhole and one service box. He said other areas will be inspected, including two Verizon manholes, under an adjusted schedule to be worked out this week.

As he did Monday, Bloomberg took pains yesterday to praise firefighters and others who did the laborious work to clean the site and collect human remains in the months immediately after the attacks. And he said that while the discovery of new remains was tragic, it isn't fair to blame workers or city officials now.

"If anyone rushed, it was to find answers for victims' families," he said.

"They were the only ones that were really part of the consideration at the time; whether you did it months later or for construction purposes didn't make any difference at all," Bloomberg said.

Bryan Virasami writes for Newsday. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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