By Kit R. Roane
hese days it's quiet as a cemetery. The trail of trucks that deposited 1.62 million tons of World Trade Center wreckage here is gone now. The concrete rubble, the twisted steel, and the departed souls have all been churned under the earth. The sifting machines have been dismantled, and the lumpy ground, sprayed with seeds, is now coming up as grass.
The Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island had been slated for closure until September 11 brought part of it back into service as a macabre repository for the debris that fell upon lower Manhattan. Hundreds of federal agents, firefighters, police officers, and blue-collar workers plowed through up to 9,000 tons a day for 10 months at "the Hill," searching for clues, body parts, and artifacts of lost lives. Every day took its toll, "but the worst was when we'd see what was left of the firetrucks coming in," says Michael Mucci, who supervised the site for the city's Department of Sanitation for five months. "Because you knew most of the firemen on these trucks didn't make it out alive."
The swatches of clothing, the driver's licenses, and the family pictures culled from the refuse now sit at police headquarters, waiting to be claimed. Also gone are the stacks of crushed vehicles, more than 1,300 in all; some of them have been shipped to museums, while others have been recycled into steel. The workers who had spent their days and nights here in a seemingly endless search have gone back to their jobs, homes, and bars haunted by the memories of what they saw, finding relief in tears and gallows humor.
What wasn't carted offmore than 1.4 million tonshas been sorted according to which building it came from and buried in what amounts to large graves. "It is important that we treat everything with the utmost care," notes Al Ferguson, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Sanitation.
The next question, he says, is what sort of memorial might be placed at Fresh Kills for "those who lost loved ones who were never recovered and still have nothing tangible" to mark that they were ever there.