By AMY WESTFELDT
NEW YORK (Jan. 31) – Large steel columns from the fallen twin towers have been
found beneath a service road being excavated at ground zero in the search for
long-buried Sept. 11 remains, officials said Wednesday.
The surprising discovery of World Trade Center steel in the past week raises
more questions about what was left at ground zero in the cleanup after the 2001
attacks and how the service road was created in the first place.
The steel, found during a dig for human remains that has yielded nearly 300
bones in the past three months, includes two heavy beams that were stacked horizontally
in the landfill, as if moved and placed there, a person with direct knowledge
of the discovery told The Associated Press. The person was not authorized to
publicly discuss the findings and insisted on anonymity.
The discovery was confirmed by officials for the city and Port Authority of
New York and New Jersey, which owned the trade center.
The columns were about 18 feet long and perhaps 60 tons each. Officials believe
the steel columns, located a week ago just 2 to 3 feet below the surface of
the road, were deliberately set there at some point during the cleanup, perhaps
to stabilize heavy machinery in use at the time.
Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler, who is overseeing the search for remains, declined
to speculate on how the steel might have ended up where it did.
Digging was halted in the immediate area surrounding the steel columns until
the Port Authority removes the steel. The columns will be put into storage at
a hangar at Kennedy International Airport, agency spokesman Steve Coleman said
Wednesday. The hangar stores all sorts of artifacts from the trade center, including
what was believed to be the last column removed from the site in May 2002.
The person with knowledge of the discovery told the AP that three connected
steel columns that once formed the facade of the trade center were also found
below the road. Another column was found on the other end of the trade center
site, where the Port Authority is building a retaining wall for three planned
office towers, the person said. Unlike the stacked columns, this steel appeared
to be burned at one end.
Officials involved in the initial cleanup have said that some steel pierced
the ground as it fell and later was cut off above street level to speed up parts
of the cleanup.
Coleman said the two heavy columns were the only steel found in the service
road in the three-month-old search for remains. City officials confirmed that
other steel had been found beyond the two heavy columns.
Throughout the renewed search for remains, crews had been finding smaller bits
of debris from the towers as they dug into the material under the service road.
In December, Skyler expanded the search in that area because of the discoveries
of small scraps of steel, electrical wires, computer parts and office carpeting
– but nothing that came close to the major pieces of trade center steel.
“We’ve been finding material from the buildings throughout the haul road,
so in that context it’s not that surprising,” Skyler said. “What’s
most important to us is locating remains that we can find and returning them
to the families.”
The city agency in charge of the debris removal in 2002, which also oversaw
construction of the road, could not say how the steel got there and why it was
never removed. Matthew Monahan, spokesman for the Department of Design and Construction,
declined to comment and referred calls to Skyler.
Diane Horning, who lost her son on Sept. 11 and is a leading critic of the
city’s search for remains, said the steel discovery proves that the city ended
cleanup too quickly and paved over the service road without searching it.
“They built it so that they could get their project done ahead over schedule
and under budget, which was always their first priority,” Horning said.
Associated Press writer Sara Kugler contributed to this report.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.