Remains at WTC
By SARA KUGLER
NEW YORK (AP) - As excavators clawed into
the ruins of the World Trade Center, the
workers in the machines were often the
first to spot human remains clutched in
``It's really tough when you find
somebody. That's somebody's son, husband,
daughter, wife, mother, father, and you've
just pulled this person out of the
ground,'' said Richard Streeter, 34.
Streeter was among dozens of grappler
operators who began work on a
10-story-high debris pile Sept. 12, and is
one of the few who remain at what is now a
A ceremony Thursday will marks the end of
the cleanup at ground zero, where more
than 2,800 people died and 1.8 million
tons of debris have been removed.
``We're part of something special. Coming
here every day means something to me,''
The men who moved the debris, load by
load, labored alongside the firefighters
and police officers for more than eight
They did not hurry into the burning towers
to save people, but when the buildings
fell, they rushed to lower Manhattan to
help lift the steel and concrete so
victims could be recovered.
The workers, called operating engineers,
wear jeans, sweatshirts and boots as their
uniform. They are trained to build things,
or take them down. Unlike rescue workers,
they do not regularly face tragedy on the
``We've seen things that we never would
have seen in our lives,'' said Jimmy
Chiusano, 36, who decided this month to
work straight through to the end without
any days off. ``Now we've seen somewhat
what war is about.''
Streeter said he is drawn to the site
because he worked for nearly a year on the
rebuilding project in the trade center's
basement after terrorists bombed it in
Chiusano asked his union for the
assignment because his father, a retired
crane operator, helped build the twin
towers more than 30 years ago.
Chiusano said his most difficult day was
the first time his machine unearthed the
remains of a firefighter still in uniform.
``I took a walk, took a deep breath and
came back and did it again,'' he said.
The grappler operators supported each
other on those days. They spoke frequently
by radio, and slid out of their machines
to gather around when remains were found.
``You know when somebody's not doing too
good. Sometimes the bodies will be found
in pockets - five, 10 bodies all clumped
together - and you look over and you see
that everybody's around his machine and
you know the guy's in trouble,'' Streeter
said. ``You walk over there, you stand
alongside the machine with him while he's
working and keep talking to him, and it
Talking among themselves - often at the
bar after a 12-hour shift - is a form of
therapy, the men say. Neither Streeter nor
Chiusano has sought counseling, which has
been mandatory for the majority of rescue
Despite the danger, no workers were
seriously injured during the cleanup,
which ended three months ahead of schedule
and cost about $750 million - a fraction
of initial estimates.
``Our rate of injury is half of what it
would be on a typical construction project
- and there is nothing typical about this
project,'' Kenneth Holden, commissioner of
the city's Department of Design and
Port Authority Police Lt. John Ryan, who
oversees remains recovery, called the
construction workers ``unsung heroes.''
``We get all the recognition, but if we
had 40,000 police officers and
firefighters down here, we still couldn't
do the job,'' Ryan said. ``They moved the
steel so that we could find people.''
After the work ends and the rescue workers
return to their assigned posts, Streeter
and Chiusano may not be finished at the
Both hope to be assigned there when
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