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Rebuilding the Pentagon - 2002-03-09

Monday (3/11) marks the six-month anniversary of the attack on the Pentagon by suicide terrorists who commandeered a jetliner and slammed it into the building, killing 125 people inside the famous five-sided structure. VOA Pentagon Correspondent Alex Belida reports on the rebuilding effort.

The work crews involved in what is called the Phoenix Project have tapered back from their initial 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week pace. But not much. They now still labor 20-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week.

That is because the hundreds of men and women helping rebuild areas of the Pentagon damaged in the terrorist attack have an ambitious goal: by this coming September 11th they want to get military and civilian staff back to work in totally refinished offices at the exact spot where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building.

Lee Evey is the Project Manager of this more than $700 million effort to move rapidly from a bloody tragedy to a construction triumph. "Our stated goal is we want to have people back in the building on E Ring, where the aircraft impacted, by September 11," he said. "We want them to be sitting at their desk performing their mission, doing their work. So we expect those offices not just to have a chair in it, that people sit in, we expect those to be fully functional offices."

Mr. Evey says the project is several weeks ahead of schedule. But to help keep the workers' eyes squarely on the goal, a countdown clock has been erected at the construction site, counting down to zero on the September 11 anniversary.

Not that construction crews need any prompting. Mr. Evey said the workers are already highly motivated. "It's a highly motivated workforce," he said. "There's no question about that. And the reasons for that motivation sometimes are quite personal. You know we have people on the project who lost family members and things like that, okay? These are just the most -- construction workers are just the most patriotic people you'll ever meet in your life, just incredible people. So I'm very proud of them."

Nearly 50,000 square meters of office space on five floors and in three of the Pentagon's five rings were demolished in the attack. But casualties were kept to a minimum because of anti-bomb security upgrades in the area that was struck.

Mr. Evey says the rebuilt section will have the same kinds of bomb-proofing measures plus additional upgrades offering new protection against fire, blast and chemical, biological and radiological attack.