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Time: Rescue Workers Biggest Enemy - 2001-09-13


Rescuers at the leveled World Trade Center towers in New York are working against the clock to find survivors of Tuesday's terrorist attack. Since terrorists ploughed two hijacked jetliners into New York's famous twin towers in the heart of the city's financial district, the biggest enemy facing rescuers is time.

An estimated 50,000 people worked in the World Trade Center. Rescue workers are sifting through rubble, day and night, looking for survivors of the September 11 attack that reduced both towers to a pile of twisted steel girders, concrete, and glass.

Dr. Charles Immerman, Emergency Medicine Chairman of Metrohealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, says several factors determine whether someone trapped under tons of rubble survives. "The thing that it depends on is the person injured. Second of all, does the person have medical problems already that require them to take medication? The third thing would be if they have access to fresh air and water," said Mr. Immerman. "And beyond that, it is just time... If they do not have any access to water and they are trapped, their chance of survival goes down dramatically after a couple of days."

Another key factor in their survival, according to Dr. Immerman, is where the trapped individuals are located in the leveled World Trade buildings. As I understand, when buildings like this collapse, sometimes little pockets are formed," he said. "And that was the case with the policeman and the fire people who were saved."

Stanley Klein knows. Dr. Klein is a trauma surgeon at the University of California Medical Center Los Angeles who traveled to Japan in January 1995 to assist in rescue and treatment of victims of the massive Kobe earthquake. "Mainly, you are looking for where debris falls and falls in such a way that people are knocked down or trapped, for instance, at the site of a desk," said Dr. Klein. "And there is a big timber or field piece where it is supported on the desk, and they are in what is called a pocket where their surrounded by debris, but basically there is air to breathe and they happen to be in a situation they can communicate to the outdoors."

Dr. Klein says the rubble, which can weigh hundreds of kilos, must then be carefully removed so as not to cause a cave-in.

Building engineers say employees of the World Trade Center who were trapped in the lower floors are the most likely to survive. University of Cincinnati (Ohio) Civil Engineering Professor Richard Miller, says the high temperatures of fires fed by jet fuel melted the Trade Center's steel support beams, causing each of the towers' floors to collapse onto the one beneath it. "Since you have floor, collapsing on floor, collapsing on floor, anything in between tends to get crushed. And so the people who were actually up in the tower as the floors are falling down there is probably not a high likelihood of survivorship in that area.," says Mr. Miller. "Now, down underneath, when some of the debris has had a chance to fall away maybe in the basement area which is a lot stronger, down in there, there could still be some people."

But the longer time goes on, the less likely it is survivors will be found.