As a New York Fire Department bell tolled the 5-5-5-5 fire code at precisely 10:29 a.m. yesterday, symbolizing the moment Tower Two of the World Trade Center collapsed, an empty stretcher was carried from the seven-story-deep pit where workers have spent months digging and searching through the rubble of what was once one of America's proudest landmarks.
As the stretcher was placed in an ambulance, little could be heard but the distance rumble of traffic. A truck carrying the last steel beam from the site, which was cut down during a ceremony for recovery workers on Tuesday, followed the ambulance from the site.
So ended the recovery efforts at the World Trade Center.
The crowd watching the ceremony included workers in nearby buildings, former World Trade Center workers, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, stood silent. Buglers played taps and bagpipers performed "America the Beautiful." The largely silent crowd burst into applause as recovery workers, firefighters and police officers left Ground Zero.
President George W. Bush reminded Americans to "continue to offer our prayer to those families and friends and citizens who still hurt."
Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao noted that on May 30, the recovery phase and cleanup "on a worksite like no other in our great nation under some of the most dangerous conditions imaginable" came to an end. "Yet, only 35 workers missed workdays due to injury and, most importantly, no more lives were lost to work at a site where so many innocent lives were lost to terrorism," she added.
In a cleanup effort that took over eight months, 3 million work hours were logged. Tremendous cooperation existed between city, state and federal agencies, trade associations, contractors and labor organizations, she noted. "American workersformed a partnership to reclaim this site and recover our fellow citizens. And, they've done so safely - with pride, dignity, talent, hard work and dogged determination."
Over 1,000 Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration staff members from New York and around the country worked on the site, providing safety and health consultation services, performing air sampling and monitoring and collecting other safety data. Over 6,100 workers, including 2,700 New York City fire department employees, were fit-tested for respirators; more than 130,000 respirators were distributed on-site, and in excess of 6,000 personal, area and bulk samples of hazardous substances were collected.