A powerful account of the lesser-known heroes of 9/11—the construction workers who toiled outside the spotlight cleaning up the stunning destruction at Ground Zero, and recovering the bodies of the victims who perished there. With color photographs by Joel Meyerowitz.
Hours after two airplanes hit the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, Charlie Vitchers, a construction superintendent, and Bobby Gray, a crane operator, headed downtown. They knew their skills would be crucial amid the chaos and destruction after the towers fell.
What they could not imagine—and what they would soon discover—was the enormity of the task at Ground Zero. Four hundred million pounds of steel; 600,000 square feet of broken glass; and 2,700 vertical feet of building had been reduced to a pile of burning debris covering sixteen acres. Charlie, Bobby, and hundreds of other construction workers, many of whom had helped to build the Twin Towers, were the only ones qualified to safely handle the devastation.
Everyone working the site faced the looming danger of the collapse of the slurry wall protecting lower Manhattan from the waters of the Hudson River, the complexity of shifting tons of steel without losing additional lives, and the day-to-day challenge and emotional strain of recovering victims. Charlie Vitchers became the go-to guy for the hundreds of people and numerous agencies laboring to clean up Ground Zero. What he and Bobby Gray make dramatically evident is how the job of dismantling the remaining ruins and restoring order to the site was far more complex and dangerous than constructing the tallest buildings in the world.
With stunning full-color photographs donated by Joel Meyerowitz—a celebrated and award-winning artist and the only non-newsroom photographer allowed access to the site—and first-person oral accounts of the tragedy from the morning of the attack to the Last Column ceremony, Nine Months at Ground Zero is a harrowing but ultimately redemptive story of forthright and heroic service.
When the World Trade Center fell, construction superintendent Vitchers and crane operator Gray were among the hundreds of workers hired by one of the management firms selected by New York City's Department of Design and Construction to recover bodies and clear debris. The authors recall how tensions grew between construction workers and fire and police personnel as the latter focused their efforts on recovering the bodies of their colleagues, slighting civilian casualties, who received no honor guard or a flag as they were carried out of the pit. Aided by freelancer Stout, Vitchers and Gray have harsh words for the DDC, which often put bureaucratic and political concerns above the recovery process: "The faster and cheaper the work was done, the better the DDC would look." Morale was low, site safety was problematic and chaos often reigned at ground zero. Although it has some worthy moments particularly, the demythologizing of the firefighters, the shoring up of the unstable slurry wall and the logistics of removing millions of tons of debris from a burial ground this feels like an also-ran among the mass of 9/11 titles. 8 pages of color photos not seen by PW.