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Waste Places

September 11, 2012

Landfill at Fresh Kills, Staten Island, NY, Photo by Chester Higgins for the EPA, Source National Archives and Records Administration (NAI 548348)

WARNING: Graphic Images

For the Lord will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord…” (Is. 51: 3).

Covering 2200 acres and taller than the Statue of Liberty, the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, NY can be seen from space.

At one time the primary waste disposal site for the City of New York, Fresh Kills was closed to dumping early in 2001, but reopened to process the 2 million tons of debris from the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Mass Destruction

“You could not comprehend the massive destruction [at Ground Zero].  Even though there was an enormous amount of toxic debris and smoke, your skin was on fire you couldn’t breathe your eyes were tearing, you just kept going on and on.  You didn’t care – you just wanted to find somebody [1].”

– former EMS Paramedic, Freddie Noboa, now suffering from PTSD, asthma, and many other illnesses

Twisted girders, broken concrete, bricks, glass, shredded paper, and human remains were shipped by truck and barge to Fresh Kills.

A Miniature City

Work at Fresh Kills went on 24/7 consuming over 1.7 million man hours.  A miniature city grew up to accommodate the NYC Police Department, FBI, 25 state and federal agencies, and 14 contractors sorting through the material.

Though recovery workers at Ground Zero toiled without respirators, those at Fresh Kills landfill were provided them, along with safety gear which included protective suits and gloves; goggles; hard hats; and steel-toe boots.

In view of the high stress environment, psychological counseling was, also, made available.

Like Being in Hell

“We found 150 full bodies and 20,000 body parts.  It was like being in hell down there – arms, legs, people cut in half – a gruesome job.  There were guys down there spitting up blood [1B].”

 – former FDNY Deputy Chief, Jim Riches, who found his son’s body on “the pile” at Ground Zero in March 2002

Under strict security protocols, piece after piece of material was passed along assembly lines and closely examined.  Thousands of fragmentary human remains were recovered from which 300 persons were identified.  More than 1600 personal effects were retrieved.

Toxic Debris

The toxic debris from the collapse of the Twin Towers was found to contain more than 2500 contaminants.  These included glass and other fibers, asbestos, lead, and mercury.

About 70% of first responders developed cancers and serious respiratory conditions.  Along with EMS and firefighters, construction workers, health care professionals, clergy, and others continue to suffer from medical issues a decade later.

USS New York

Twenty-four tons of steel from the World Trade Center were used to forge the USS New York, a Navy assault ship.

Ground Zero Cross

A 20’ cross made of steel girders presided over Ground Zero throughout the recovery process.  Discovered after the Twin Towers went down, the cross – actually prefabricated beams that survived the attack – has been relocated to the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum now at the site.

Freedom Tower

Construction of the Freedom Tower, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as a replacement for the Twin Towers, is well underway.  The new tower is already, as of this writing, the tallest building amid the forest of skyscrapers in Manhattan.

The plan is that Fresh Kills landfill will be reclaimed as a wetland and park.  A monument is to be built honoring those whose remains may have been interred when the last of the 9/11 debris was buried at Fresh Kills.

Where Was God?

People still ask where God was on 9/11.  Some scars will last a lifetime.  But there is an answer to the question.

God was at the windows.  He was under the desks, and in the stairwells.  He was in the smoke filled rooms, with all those who needed Him.  We cannot know how many more would have perished had He not been there.

Most certainly, He was on “the pile” at Ground Zero, and at the Fresh Kills landfill for the long months afterwards.

Those who sacrificed themselves, so that others might live are with Him now.   But He lives on in those who gave their time, their labor, their talent, their pain, their health and near sanity, so that strangers might know what became of their loved ones.

He was there.  He is in all the waste places – those that can be located on a map, and those on the terrain of the heart.

[1A and 1B]  CBS News, “9/11:  Still Killing” by Radhika Chalasani, 12/10/15,

Originally published 9/11/12
(Updated 9/11/16)

READERS CAN FIND MY VIEWS ON ABUSE AND ABUSE-RELATED ISSUES AT ANNA WALDHERR A Voice Reclaimed, Surviving Child Abuse  https://avoicereclaimed

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