Marshall man spends week helping at Ground Zero
With work under way around the clock and body parts as a constant reminder, Ground Zero in New York City where the World Trade Center towers stood until the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, is still very much a disaster area.
After an eight-day stint beside the spot where the twin towers stood, helping to feed workers there, Marshall resident David Morrow has a new understanding of what it's like to be a New Yorker.
"There are 12-hour shifts 24 hours a day. It is a disaster site," said Morrow. "The look on the workers' faces when people come through the meal line ... . They don't talk, they are just exhausted."
Morrow spent eight days, from Jan. 1 to Jan. 8 at the beginning of this year, cooking and serving food within a few hundred feet from the spot the World Trade Center towers once stood. Along with 14 other members of the Missouri Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief group, Morrow helped serve up to 5,000 people a day as they took a break from the physically and emotionally exhausting job of cleaning up the site.
"In the area of Ground Zero the majority of the businesses had been shut down or moved. A lot of restaurants that would have been shut down by now, the Salvation Army had purchased food from them to keep them open.
"A catering company (transported) that food and we would, in turn, serve it buffet style to the police department, fire department, park security and construction workers that were working on the job site," said Morrow.
Even though Morrow only crossed a fence separating his area from the destroyed towers once, to cater refreshments, he was surrounded by thousands of workers who have been at the site from the first day, in an atmosphere that is far from any regular working environment.
"It's not going to be a job site for quite a while. Their spirits are affected dramatically." he said. "We would try to be cheerful on the serving line, even if a small joke was all we could give because they would be going back into the pit looking for lost family members and bodies.
"We just wanted to get some of the pressure off them."
And every day, Morrow noted, there was the starkest reminder of all, as word of more bodies being discovered passed from person to person.
"There was usually one to three bodies a day. At one point there was also a rumor ... someone said they had found a pocket of 13 - 13 firefighters' bodies," Morrow said.
"Some of the stories I heard were they were cleaning the apartments (around the site) and cleaning one building and there were two airplane seats in the hotel room still occupied," he said. "And they were in buildings that were several hundred feet away."
Morrow noted that there were workers from every state, Canada and even a firefighter from the Netherlands who have all been living at Ground Zero.
"Just coming fresh, I hadn't been affected by the negativity. Just coming fresh I can't understand what they've got to deal with," he added.
Now the cleanup has moved below ground as the workers work through the seven stories of the World Trade buildings that were underground and the floors that were compacted into them.
Morrow guesstimates that at its deepest point the hole is about 60 feet deep, with another 30 feet to go,while other areas have a lot more digging, sifting and searching to go.
"Ground Zero is now 'the pit' because they've got all the debris above ground, for the most part, cleaned up," he noted.
"Whenever you get there you have to have credentials to even get down to Ground Zero. Everyone else is two blocks away. You have to go through orientation and go through the do's and don'ts for that area," Morrow said.
While tourists on the outskirts crowd around gates to get a look inside, those working inside the perimeter have their credentials scrutinized and are told not to touch anything they are not supposed to or go anywhere but where they are working
"Ground Zero is a crime scene and you're not allowed to take pictures. If you take any pictures your camera would be taken and kept and you would be told to leave," said Morrow.
In the pit, large vehicles usually only used in rock or quarry sites are loaded with debris which they carry and dump on the surface. Other trucks haul it from there to the Staton Island landfill site where all the debris is searched and run through sifters.
"What the sifters would do is let all the dirt and small particles through while people look for plane parts, watches, rings, body parts, bones ... ," said Morrow. "The city of New York is going to great extent to make sure they don't just load it up and dump it.
"They are going to a great extent to search every piece to find for things for family so they have closure."
Morrow has worked with the Missouri Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief efforts before, cutting trees after ice storms in Arkansas over last the 2001 New Year's holiday and helping with relief efforts after tornadoes hit Kansas and Oklahoma in the spring of 2000.
His crew replaced other Southern Baptist Church volunteers from Louisiana and was replaced by an Alabama crew Jan. 8.
"Funded by the Southern Baptist Church and other organizations, we get some help through Red Cross and in some instances, like in New York, we work with the Salvation Army," Morrow explained
Now back at his home in Marshall, Morrow is getting his tree-trimming and removal company running again but will always remember his visit to New York and the people working at Ground Zero.
"It was very worthwhile to go. It was a lifetime experience," he said. "We got to meet a lot of nice people - the stories you probably see, or heard about about New York (in the past) we didn't see any of that.
"Some people say it changed the attitude of New Yorkers," he added. "People would offer help and directions before you even asked them."