Friday September 21 6:16 PM ET

Workers Battle Fires in WTC Ruins, Rescue Hopes Dim

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Workers battled underground fires in the ruins of the World Trade Center on Friday, turning to more heavy equipment in an unofficial admission that hope of finding any of the 6,333 missing alive was all but lost.

The teams working for a 10th day at the rubble of the twin towers were moving from a hunt for survivors to clearing away the massive devastation on the 16-acre site, said Fire Commissioner Thomas von Essen.

"It's really happening in a normal kind of a transition that I think is acceptable to everybody and the best way for us to get this done," Von Essen said.

Workers who had been sifting through debris by hand were bringing in more heavy equipment to move the twisted steel and crushed concrete remains of the city's tallest buildings, he told NBC's "Today" show.

"So much of the concrete and everything else was vaporized or really crushed and pulverized that we need the heavy equipment to move some of the steel," he said.

While experts say survival is still possible, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said: "The experts have not dealt with a situation like this before, which is two hundred-story buildings that have been driven deep into the ground that are still partially on fire underground."

Experienced forest firefighters joined rescue crews to help douse the subterranean blazes that persisted 10 days after the twin 110-story buildings were rammed by two hijacked planes and collapsed in terrifying heaps.

Workers had hoped to find survivors inside voids within the rubble, but fire officials said the open spaces they had found were too hot from the blazes to have sustained life.

Workers still combed through the rubble carefully, Giuliani said, in an effort to find human remains at the least.

But only 252 people have been confirmed dead, and of those, just 183 were identified, he said. The list of the missing remained at 6,333 people, and 6,408 people were reported injured.


Family members, losing hope that anyone is still alive, said recovering remains would help a bit.

"Otherwise, it is too difficult to say goodbye when you have nothing to say goodbye to," said Linda Perry, whose husband Eric Thorpe is among the missing.

At the scene, a half dozen cranes were employed pulling out huge steel I-beams and other heavy debris.

"We are just trying to reach some of those people, trying to give their families anything we can get," said one exhausted fire captain as he left the disaster site.

Around him, others fought off feelings of dejection.

"I think we all know we are not going to find anyone in there now," said one firefighter. "I pray we do, we all do, but we are losing hope. That thing came down so hard."

Giuliani said a shift to recovery from rescue efforts would not likely come in an official announcement.

"I don't think we'll have to do it that way. I think what will happen is over a period of time, the emphasis will change," he said.

Saying that the chance of finding a survivor is "very, very small," he added: "The chance of recovering significant numbers of people who survived is impossible."

No survivors have been found since Sept. 12, the day after the coordinated strikes at each of the Trade Center towers and the Pentagon outside Washington. A fourth hijacked airliner crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

Throughout the surrounding financial district, where the towers were once unforgettable fixtures on the skyline, businesses and restaurants were reopening.

"We are back, but it is very, very difficult. There is too much sadness, you can feel it all around," said office worker Carmen Montoya.

At the New York Stock Exchange, which reopened on Monday after being closed for four days, investors dumped shares for a fifth straight day. Blue chips logged their biggest weekly loss since the Depression.

The New York Mets were set to play an evening game at Shea Stadium against the Atlanta Braves, the first major sporting event in the city since the stunning attacks. Players planned to wear caps honoring the city's fire department, police, emergency services, Port Authority police and state court officers.

More than 300 firefighters and emergency services workers were among those lost.

Also Friday night, performers from every corner of the entertainment world -- including Bruce Springsteen, Julia Roberts, U2 and Tom Cruise -- were slated to appear in a two-hour televised benefit for victims of the attacks.

Former Beatle Paul McCartney said he also was planning a concert to benefit the New York City firefighters.

Joining Giuliani to tour the site were Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

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