Images from Ground Zero
Captured Scenes and Remembered Moments from 'The Pile'
View a multimedia slideshow featuring the voices and photos of three Ground Zero photographers.
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Sept. 10, 2002 -- NPR Correspondent Eric Westervelt covered the terror attacks in New York City and their aftermath. A year later, the world he briefly inhabited -- the smoldering, subterranean rubble of the World Trade Center towers -- no longer exists. Here, Westervelt reflects on the scene at Ground Zero, and introduces several site workers who shared their photographs and memories.
By Eric Westervelt
"Bring two passport-size photos. And wear work clothes and boots. You know, the grubbier the better. None of that reporter wear," ironworker Mark Volpe told me over the phone. "There’s a coffee shop on Reade Street near Greenwich. Be there at 6 a.m.," he said.
A few weeks after the attacks on New York City, Volpe was agreeing to help me get an unofficial, subterranean tour of what workers called "the pile" -- the giant, still-burning mass the media had dubbed Ground Zero. The administration of then-New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani was still keeping journalists behind barricades several blocks north of the attack site.
Without interfering with your jobs, I told Mark, the stories of workers at Ground Zero need to be told. Mark helped me do that. The former military man had his methods.
For four months, Mark directed one of the union ironworker crews. Some of them had helped build the Twin Towers more than three decades earlier. Now, they worked in 'round-the-clock shifts to cut through the eight-story-high mass of mangled steel and concrete. The dangerous and draining task eventually took on an air of the routine, workers told me.
It would never, of course, really become routine. But perhaps entertaining the fiction that it was just another job helped workers handle the enormous physical and emotional burden of working long shifts amidst the horror and carnage.
Like Volpe, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) photographers Andrea Booher and Michael Rieger took risks as they went about their difficult jobs. Neither photos, film, nor the sound and words we in radio rely on can really convey the scale of the devastation. But these photos begin to evoke the sadness, devastation and other-worldliness that was Ground Zero.
For the workers there, the word "hero" wasn't tossed around freely like it was for the police and firefighters. But these photographs and reflections remind us that, in a way, their work was just as heroic as that of the first responders. We're grateful they shared their stories and photos with NPR News.
Featured Westervelt Reports from Ground Zero:
Sept. 13, 2001 -- NPR's Eric Westervelt visits what rescue workers in New York are calling "the pile" -- the twisted rubble of the World Trade Center. Firefighters have pulled out a few survivors, and are bringing the dead to a makeshift morgue set up in a Brooks Brothers storefront.
Sept. 14, 2001 -- Rain hampers rescue workers at the World Trade Center site, who slog through muddy rubble as hope fades of finding more survivors. Fires and falling glass continue to pose safety hazards to rescuers. Meanwhile, police say they are cracking down on dozens of bomb scares, false alarms and petty looters.
Sept. 18, 2001 -- Businesses struggle to recover from the previous week's attacks on lower Manhattan. From brokerage houses to corner delis, the economic impact on New York City will have repercussions long after the cleanup ends.
Sept. 27, 2001 -- The impact of Sept. 11 has taken a serious toll on New York City's fire department. With hundreds of firefighters dead from the attacks, the force faces the future exhausted, grieving, and dangerously short-handed.
Oct. 11, 2001 -- One month after the attack on the World Trade Center, Westervelt speaks to ironworker Mark Volpe and his co-workers, who continue to comb through the smoking rubble.