WTC remains search to continue

By Amy Westfeldt
The Associated Press

AP Photo/Stephen Chernin
Workers search for victims in the rubble of the World Trade Center disaster site in December 2001.

NEW YORK — A goal to end the search for human remains at the World Trade Center site by the fall is not realistic, and the effort will continue "for the foreseeable future," a city official said Tuesday.

The city medical examiner's office will maintain a presence at the site indefinitely while construction continues in case excavations unearth more human remains, Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler said in a memo to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The hope to finish searching by this fall  "is no longer attainable," he added.

"Our experience over the last nine months and the ongoing rebuilding of the World Trade Center site and surrounding area suggest that search operations will continue in one form or another for the foreseeable future," Skyler said.

Construction and the remains search have continued to unearth debris from the fallen twin towers under nearby roads and possibly in ground where families gather each year to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary, Skyler wrote.

Hundreds of human bones, ranging from fragments to full arm and leg bones, have been found since October and continue to be recovered daily in an intensive city-led search for remains missed in the cleanup right after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

City officials have searched manholes, rooftops, sewer lines, a service road at ground zero and under a state highway, sometimes finding steel and debris from the destroyed towers mixed in with the remains.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the lower Manhattan site's owner, recently found material that "could be trade center debris" under a road in front of the World Financial Center, the skyscrapers west of ground zero, Skyler wrote. The agency was digging in the area to build an underground tunnel as part of a transit hub.

State and city officials have dug up hundreds of cubic yards of material in front of the buildings to search for human remains, Skyler wrote.

Thousands of family members have gathered every Sept. 11 in front of the World Financial Center to read the names of the nearly 2,800 victims killed in New York.

The Port Authority also found trade center debris while digging test pits to prepare for more construction on the southern end of the 16-acre site, and the city is digging up a block of the road to search for remains there, Skyler said.

Construction is under way on a 1,776-foot skyscraper, a Sept. 11 memorial and a transit hub. Four more office towers and a performing arts center are planned. The last office tower is scheduled to be finished by 2013.

The search since October has yielded 677 pieces of human bones in and around ground zero; an additional 785 have been found in the past two years in a vacant skyscraper damaged on Sept. 11, 2001.

None of the bones recovered in the past two years has been matched to the more than 1,100 Sept. 11 victims whose remains have never been positively identified. The medical examiner's office is retesting remains to obtain stronger DNA profiles to lead to identifications. The remains of nine victims have been identified in recent months.

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