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The Longest Week

Tuesday continued

In the lobby of the Beekman emergency room, Benjamin Fogel, a 28-year-old man with a red beard and side curls, sits in a wheelchair; a cardboard tag around his neck has the schematic outline of a human body, with markings for injuries (a fractured right ankle, a lacerated chin, burns on his arms, legs, back). Fogel is a paramedic for Hatzolah, the Jewish ambulance company, in Brooklyn. "We were setting up a staging area in front of the towers when the second building came down," he says gingerly so as not to rip the stitches in his face. "I saw the building coming at me and then . . ." His voice is a monotone. "As we were running out, both buildings were on fire, there were body parts all over the street. We saw a young lady, pregnant, so we put her in the ambulance and brought her to the hospital." Then Fogel himself became a patient. "I am just happy to be alive," he says. "I have no words to say to the people who did this."

At 4 p.m., Alan Hevesi moves to the front of the line at the New York Blood Center on 67th Street (his blood type: O). "We're down campaigning at Borough Hall in Brooklyn when word comes out," he says. "I've got my staff in the Municipal Building on Chambers Street, so we drive back across the bridge. When we get there, the senior staff is arranging for evacuation. Then we hear the roar of the first collapse. The dust cloud comes over us, and I give the order to close the windows and shut off the A/C. We went back to Brooklyn by subway with Randi Weingarten to get our signs out of there. It's inappropriate. Now we just support the mayor." He looks up at the TV as Giuliani is speaking. "This, a crisis, is where he's at his best," Hevesi says, then catches himself. "Off the record. I don't want to sound like I'm giving him any praise."

"We were champing at the bit," says WCBS-TV reporter Vince DeMentri of his decision to sneak behind police barricades and report from 7 World Trade Center a half-hour before it collapsed. "I knew the story was in there." But after he and his cameraman slipped past officers, they lost all sense of direction. "From outside this zone, you could figure out where everything was," he says. "But inside, it was all destruction and blown-out buildings, and we had no clue. I walked into one building, but I had no idea where I was. The windows were all blown out. Computers, desks, furniture, and people's possessions were strewn all over." He found a picture of a little girl lying in the rubble. Then he realized that No. 7, aflame, was about fifteen to twenty feet ahead of him. "I looked up Barclay Street," he says. "There was nobody out. No bodies, no injured. Nobody. There were mounds of burning debris. It was like opening a broiler." (DeMentri was later arrested for impersonating a police officer in another attempt to gain access to the site.)

On the Seventh Avenue side of St. Vincents, workers are laying out cots and chairs, draping them with sheets, waiting for the injured to arrive. A Yonkers motorcycle cop sits outside, waiting to escort a car delivering blood, and people approach him for information. Someone asks if he knows about the blood situation. "You got me, I'm just down from Yonkers." Then he volunteers: "You know what this is, it's because of those liberal motherfuckers that you got here. Look around here — how many white people you see?" The crowd was probably 40 percent minorities, many of them uniformed hospital workers. "You can't even tell who the bad guys are. There's just too many fucking foreigners. They should have bombed that Sadat Hussein [sic] years ago."

On Greenwich and Chambers, a crew of frustrated rescuers — metal-union workers — gather in a clump. "We don't want to give interviews, we want to get in there," says one, slamming his shovel against the ground. "They've got to get organized."

William Delemo's bodega on Church and Chambers is closed to civilians. He says he saw the first plane hit because it was so low over his shop. "People died right over there," he says, indicating a spot three blocks north of the World Trade Center. The listener is skeptical, so he shows the outline in the dust of where one of the engines landed on a woman. "It was the worst thing I ever saw."

On the doors of the Masjid Al-Farooq mosque on Atlantic Avenue, where Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman once visited, a sign quoting Chapter 6, Verse 151, of the Qu'ran has been posted: " ‘And kill not that which Allah has held sacred.' May Allah expose the wrong doers and bring them to justice, no matter who they are."

At 5:20, No. 7 finally falls. They've been waiting for it to go so they can move the firemen and search-and-rescue teams in. With the thunderous collapse, firemen bolt up from where they've been camped, on the south side of the Embassy Suites. Some have been sitting on plush hotel furniture carted into the street, eating food from the Mexican restaurant next door. There's a stampede over pickaxes and oxygen tanks. They head out toward the crushed fire trucks. "They're looking for their brothers," says an ambulance driver.

As No. 7 tips over, Church Street becomes a canyon of black smoke. The cops come flying up the street, pushing back on reporters and shouting to the remote trucks, "Back the fuck up now!"

Around 6:30, a 32-year-old woman of Middle Eastern descent is talking with neighbors near Westfield, New Jersey. "This one woman said, ‘We have to send all those people home,' " she recalls. "I made eye contact with another neighbor, who is also an Arab, and he just shrugged. I said, ‘What people?' and she said, ‘Those Arabs.' So I said, ‘If you're going to send those people home, you have to send me and my daughter home, and him and his daughter home. And where is home, exactly? Where are you going to send us?' "

A 50-year-old, silver-haired jogger gears up for his evening run and takes off down Greenwich Street. Behind him, a black cloud of smoke and the wail of sirens.

Around 8:30, word circulates among passersby on Houston Street that the president is speaking on TV. It's a half-hour before his scheduled remarks, and the patrons at Milano's suspect a bait-and-switch. Perhaps the White House has issued misinformation to thwart any interruption of the president's address? The president talked over the patter. He said the word children, and the crowd fell into silence. Afterward, two stone-faced women listened to CNN's Aaron Brown, broadcasting from a midtown rooftop: "This is a better speech than what the presidential speech-writers came up with."

Next: "My boyfriend and I got here around 4:30 in the morning"...