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NY Rescue Workers Committed To Grim Task - 2001-09-15

Rescue workers in New York are putting forth an enormous effort combing through the rubble that was the World Trade Center in a desperate search for survivors of Tuesday's terrorist attack. Despite the long odds of finding anyone alive, the rescue workers remain committed to the task at hand and, in some cases, still optimistic they might find survivors.

Ignazio Scalisi is getting ready to return to what he says looks like a scene right out of hell. After a short rest and some food and water, he and several other colleagues from local 40 of the New York Ironworkers Union are heading back to the twisted pile of rubble that once was two 110-story buildings. "Well, I would want someone to come look for me if I was in there," he said. "So, it's like just returning the favor. Plus, it's my job. That's why I became an iron worker. We built these buildings and, you know, unfortunately now we have got to take them apart."

Frank Panzarno also volunteered to look for survivors. He has been working for two and one-half days and is finding it increasingly difficult to remain upbeat. "It's hard. I mean, not the physical part, it's stressful. Everyone is mentally exhausted," he said. "It's hard. I mean, you see people that are not in whole pieces any more and it's hard, you know."

It is easy to see the stress and strain on the faces of those who wade into the rubble each day. John Steele is a Red Cross nurse who arrived on the scene Tuesday night. "You couldn't appreciate the enormity of what happened until the next morning," he said. "When the sun came up through the canyons [tall buildings] and hit that piece of steel of the building that was still standing and it reflected everything around us, it was something like out of [the film] 'Independence Day'. I mean, it was devastation as far as you could see. I never saw anything like that before in my life. I hope I never do again."

In an effort to boost the spirits of the rescue workers, local residents hand out food and water and stand on the side of the road with thank you signs, cheering every time a vehicle with police, fire or rescue workers goes by.

Rene Krasner says the rescuers appreciate the gesture. "Oh, everybody is really happy, happy to see us, to see the signs. They are very happy to see the signs. Some kind words go a long way," she said.

It is also an opportunity for local residents to get out and do something in the wake of Tuesday's devastating attack, like one group making sandwiches. "It's nice, something you can do to help," said one person in the group. Another replied, "Better than watching the news." A third agreed, "Better than watching the news. Very empowering. The news is too depressing. You feel that you have no control. Here at least you feel that you are doing something to help the situation."

The recovery operation is likely to go on for days. Though tired, the rescue workers say they are prepared to push on, knowing full well that scores of New York City firefighters and police officers perished when the twin towers collapsed. They were doing their jobs, said one man, now we are doing ours.