Contractors and engineers pull together in Manhattan recovery operation on a site likened to Chernobyl.
Bovis Lend Lease president Pete Marchetto received the call at 2pm on that Tuesday. It was New York's Department of Design and Construction. It needed help.
Until then, Marchetto had been concentrating on evacuating his staff from Met City Life, a possible target building. Now he had another job. "We started calling supervisors and project managers – anyone reachable – telling them to head downtown."
The first 24 hours after the towers fell was sheer panic; nobody had a clear idea of what had to be done. Once the scale of the rescue and recovery operation had sunk in, an emergency meeting was convened involving contractors, the fire department, the police and the city construction department.
Decisions were taken quickly. The site was a crime scene, so the debris was potential evidence and forensic standards had to applied to it keep it uncontaminated.
Access to the site was restricted and all the debris would be sent to the FBI. The site was then split into quadrants, managed by Tishman, Bovis Lend Lease and Amec, Turner and Plaza, and Tully. The operation is already being valued at about £685m.
<B>The first week</b>
The contractors and engineering firms, supplemented by volunteers organised by the Structural engineers Association of New York, then began what was to be a frustrating and fruitless task.
Buro Happold senior engineer James Rowe likened the process to an archaeological dig. "You couldn't just storm in there with bulldozers. Instead, where I was, there were chains of six guys passing buckets full of rubble."
The key task was to get equipment and lorries onto the site. Limited access was achieved by 6pm on Friday, after which the process speeded up.
One of the key engineering firms was a crisis management specialist, LZA Technology, a subsidiary of structural engineering group Thornton-Tomasetti. LZA set up six teams of engineers – one for each quadrant, another to advise on crane placements (the site was never designed to take crane loads) and the sixth to respond to emergencies.
About 200 of Bovis' 650 New York staff have worked on the recovery effort. LZA has used 40 of its 100 engineers. Some of the volunteer engineers, such as Ray Crane, head of Arup's New York office, have taken comfort from their ability to help.
But firms are becoming aware of psychological dangers to their employees. "We have had to pull people out physically," says Marchetto. Such has been the desire to help, staff have been taking naps in abandoned cars.
"We are very concerned about them," says Marchetto – who admits to having spent 100% of his own working time on the recovery operation.
"They are seeing things that are horrific. There are body parts – arms, legs, hands and toes. There is also the smell of death and decapitation permeating the air. People will start to become more aware of it as there is no longer a chance of saving anyone. It will be a tremendously gruesome clean-up process over the coming 6-12 months."
Bovis now runs training sessions for employees before they go on site. Emmanuel Velivasakis, LZA's managing principal, who was all set to return to the fray last weekend, is equally aware of the effects. "I have ordered one of my guys to take a day off this weekend. It gets to the point where the time spent there affects the judgment." All involved feel the cameraderie of working on such a "Herculean task", as one city official describes it. The city has been oversubscribed with volunteers, some of whom have been turned away. Massive food halls have been set up for the workers.
Local restaurants, such as the plush $150-a-head Bouley Bakery, are supplying food, and the city's celebrities are moonlighting as waiters. "I was served chicken by Matthew Broderick and potatoes by Sarah Jessica Parker after my shift," recounts Buro Happold associate Cristobal Correa, a volunteer engineer.
<B>The end of the rescue</b>
After a week passed there was a tacit acknowledgment that the nature of the operation had changed. Velivasakis says: "I think, frankly, the rescue effort is coming to an end. It's pretty much done with. We will now go to recovery mode with bigger cranes and bigger equipment." This will lead to a shift in the make-up of the team working at ground zero. One in three of the 5000 people at the site is now from the construction industry. "That's going to shift," says Marchetto. "I suspect we'll see fewer rescuers and more building types."
Contractors and engineers have had countless tasks outside what used to be the 6.4 ha World Trade Centre complex. They have been checking the structural integrity of surrounding buildings – 406 have been assessed – and encasing blocks with heavy-duty mesh to prevent loosened panes of glass falling.
Then there are the spin-off jobs. "We have 12 different projects on top of ground zero," says Paul Ashlin, the Bovis senior vice-president who has been leading operations on the ground. Bovis has built a family centre for relatives of the bereaved, a central command post for city officials, and extensions to a mortuary and a police forensic science laboratory.
A week after the attack and the city is trying to move on. Blocks of flats by the World Trade Centre site are reopening, power and phone lines are being turned back on and baseball games are resuming. Work has restarted on construction sites. But the horror of ground zero remains. Despite the attempts to "treat this as a project", Marchetto offers a chilling comparison for the World Trade Centre tragedy.
"Chernybol is the only thing I can think of that may have had similar circumstances, where you have had that many people concentrated on one spot."
They are seeing things that are horrific. There are body parts – arms, legs, hands and toes. There is also the smell of death permeating the air
Pete Marchetto, president, Bovis Lend Lease
New York aftermath
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