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Waste Places

September 12, 2021

Twenty years ago, the World Trade Center was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda on the United States [1][2].

Those of us old enough can recall where we were when we first heard the news.  A new generation has been born since.  But they, too, need to remember.

The post below (again updated) was originally published 9/11/12

NYC 9/11 Memorial (South Pool), Source, Author giggel (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

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 [3A].”

– 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 [3B].”

– 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.  More than 1600 personal effects were retrieved.  Thousands of fragmentary human remains were recovered from which 300 persons were originally identified.

But the work to identify remains continues.  As of 2019, the New York Medical Examiner’s Office had identified 1,644 victims – some 60% of those killed [4].

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 to this day [5][6].

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.

The names of all 2,983 victims are engraved on the 152 bronze panels surrounding the memorial pools.

Freedom Tower

The Freedom Tower, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as a replacement for the Twin Towers, now stands as the tallest building amid the forest of skyscrapers in Manhattan.

The Fresh Kills landfill is being reclaimed as a wetland and park (to re-open in phases through 2036) [7][8][9].

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.

[1]  History, “September 11 Attacks”, 8/25/18 (Updated 9/11/20),

[2]  Wikipedia, “Al-Qaeda”,

[3A and 3B]  CBS News, “9/11:  Still Killing” (Credit:  Allan Tannenbaum/,

[4]  KSAT, “Nearly 2 decades later, experts are still working to identify remains of 9/11 victims” by Dawn Jorgenson, 9/10/20,

[5]  Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA), “Health Effects of 9/11 Attacks Linger for First Responders”, 9/20, Vol. 17, No. 4,

[6]  The September 11th Victims’ Compensation Fund was established by Congress in 2011.  It was later extended through 2090.

[7]  Freshkills Park, “Wetland Restoration at Freshkills Park”, 2/1/19,

[8]  A suit to stop the park’s construction was unsuccessful.  But controversy still simmers, especially because new DNA techniques are now available to identify remains.

See , Science and Space, “For families of some 9/11 victims, new DNA tools reopen old wounds” by Gabriella Borter and Barbara Goldberg, 9/10/18,

[9]  Layers of soil and other materials were used to prevent the release of noxious gas from the toxic debris at Fresh Kills.  But nearby residents have cancer concerns.  Environmental data is being tracked.

See , Barash & McGarry, “Staten Island Residents Fear 9/11 Debris at Fresh Kills Is Causing Cancer” by Michael Barash, Esq. 11/2/20,


  1. Anna,
    A heart-wrenching read beautifully concluded by the absolute, eternal truth of God’s presence with the suffering in every calamity.

  2. ‘He is in all the waste places’ – what a message that packs! And what a mighty and compassionate God we serve. Thanks, Anna.

  3. Firstly, thank Anna—tears are now streaming down my cheeks as my brain works to process the magnitude of what you report—we don’t hear much about the nitty gritty gruesomeness do we?

    We know of the endless illnesses that the first responders have dealt with and are still dealing with…but we don’t think much about it.

    And I had never heard of Fresh Kill landfill.

    People always ask where is God when we humans experience trauma. We don’t pay Him much mind not until our worlds are rocked and turned upside down.

    But as you say…He was and is ever-present.

    He’s not however going to stop each and every calamity—as He has given us over to our ways.
    The Jews, as do many of us, still mourn the Shoah—and many have asked where was He then?
    He was there. He was in those death camps. On those battle fields. In those bombed planes and ships…

    We don’t have nor know all the answers of God—but we have been asked to trust…and trust we do—even when that trust is shaken to the core

    • I remember the days shortly after 9/11, Julie. The churches were packed. But attendance has fallen in the years since. We take God’s protection for granted. Yet He is faithful in ways we do not even know. God bless you, my friend.

  4. Very moving and perceptive response to the question, Where was God!
    He bore our iniquities and carried our sorrows.
    ❤️&🙏, c.a.

  5. Allan Halton permalink

    Thanks for the “reminder,” Anna, it seems we need to be reminded. I recall that when this happened some felt it was a sign– a portent of things to come– God saying that “your world, what you trust in, is coming down.” Churches were full in the days following. But then… life goes on, and we forget. Nevertheless, God’s promise is that He will continue to shake all things, both in Heaven and in the earth, and bring in a kingdom that cannot be shaken, a kingdom of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. I believe Him.

  6. So many losses and traumas inflicted. But praise God HOPE remains through the healing of Christ Jesus. Your opening passage from Isaiah describes well a vision of hope and healing–transforming the wilderness into a garden.

  7. Excellent repost Anna. Some harsh memories should never be forgotten. most of all, God should not be forgotten. Harsh truths should not be forgotten. We all will die. God mourns with us when we do it to each other….He lets us decide

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