—The Associated Press
Sifting of Trade Center Debris Nears End
N E W Y O R K, June 14 — Gone are the 1,300 wrecked vehicles once stacked in rows, the heaps of broken concrete and twisted steel, the boxes of rings, watches, wallets and ID cards.
With perhaps six weeks left before it officially closes, the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, once a 175-acre horrorscope of World Trade Center debris, is now nearly as empty as Ground Zero.
Only a few cranes moved trash and three conveyors sifted debris for human remains on Thursday, a sharp change from six months ago when site bustled with heavy-lift equipment and 1,000 or more workers.
Men who have spent almost every day since Sept. 11 sorting through refuse for human remains, personal property and criminal evidence speak with mixed feelings of a place once infamous as the world's largest dump.
Police Lt. Bruce Bovino said he has been deeply affected by grieving families visiting the barren, muddy hilltop 14 miles across the water from Manhattan.
"As a police officer you deal with the public all the time, but I've never dealt with so many innocent victims," he said.
Closed by the city in March 2001, Fresh Kills was reopened a day after terrorist hijackers slammed two jetliners into the trade center, bringing down the 110-story twin skyscrapers and killing more than 2,800 people.
Over the next eight months, up to 18,000 tons of debris a day were delivered by trucks and barges.
In the mountain of statistics left, perhaps none is as difficult to grasp as one cited by Police Inspector James Luongo — 1.8 million tons of refuse examined down to the last quarter-inch shred.
Many items simply vanished in the cataclysmic collapse.
"What's special to us is the things we don't see," Luongo said. "I've never seen a door, a phone, a chair, a desk, a computer. They're not here."
In the final weeks before the site is demobilized, large areas where debris was spread out and raked are being re-excavated, primarily for human remains.
"We are digging down to the level of household waste and running all that material through the sifter again. We want to make sure we haven't missed anything," Luongo said.
While few items have been recovered this way, the process could help counter any criticism that the Fresh Kills site was being closed prematurely.
Officials said that of 1,109 victims physically identified by the medical examiner's office, 167 came from 1,400 body parts recovered at Fresh Kills.
About five to 15 bits of human bone are still being found daily, said Police Sgt. Robert Fawcett.
Forensic experts in respirators man the conveyors, ready to stop the debris flow when they spot a bone shard or potentially important item.
Police notify victims' relatives of property recovered or remains identified. The city medical examiner has 20,000 pieces of remains in cold storage.
Luongo said 25 city, state and federal agencies have been involved at Fresh Kills — even the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which uses fireworks to keep thousands of seagulls and about 50 turkey vultures from scavenging the site.
The 1,300 vehicles wrecked in the attacks have been scrapped. Still at the site were a smashed yellow taxicab, two police cruisers and two NYPD emergency trucks, all destined for the city's police museum.
Firefighters retrieved panels and other items from many of the 60-plus wrecked fire engines, for memorials to their 343 colleagues killed Sept. 11.