Cheney visits workers at trade center site, as students nearby worry about smoke from ruins

Friday, October 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Helicopters hovered over the financial district to guard Vice President Dick Cheney as he spoke with workers at the World Trade Center wreckage for the first time.

``I'm trying to think if there's anything I've ever seen that rivals this,'' Cheney said Thursday as he walked through the trade center site wearing a red-white-and-blue hard hat.

Accompanied by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki, Cheney shook hands with firefighters, signed construction hats for the workers, and talked about how he had watched the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks unfold from the White House.

The visit, one of the few public appearances Cheney has made since the attacks, was just part of the background for students at nearby Stuyvesant High School who worry that the still-smoldering debris has been making them and their teachers ill.

About 80 of the school's 3,200 students and teachers have complained about headaches, nausea, sore throats and trouble breathing. Several students were wearing respirator masks at school Thursday.

``I've had really bad throat pains. I'll come home from school in the afternoon, and it'll be hurting all through the night,'' said senior Daniel Khasidy, 17. ``Once in a while there's a headache, but most of all it's throat pain. It feels like a bitter, bitter taste.''

Khasidy said his father wants him to change schools, but he'd rather to stay.

``I just think we should all be together, and things should be as normal as possible, as soon as possible,'' he said.

Many of the students had watched from their classrooms the morning of Sept. 11 after the towers were hit by hijacked airplanes and later collapsed in a cloud of dust and debris. Classes have resumed at the school, close to where the rubble is loaded onto barges in the Hudson River to be taken to a landfill.

``In the school you don't feel anything different because it's the same inside. But when you come out, it's weird looking at the barges, moving debris from the centers,'' said freshman Danny Yang, 13, who also wears a mask as he walks from the subway station to school each day.

Megan Kelley, 16, has had a few minor headaches since returning to school, and said the air was thick with dust during the first few days. She said that during the first week she had to wipe dust off her lips.

Tests at the school have indicated no asbestos and no toxins at any level that would be of concern, said Karen Finney, spokeswoman for Schools Chancellor Harold Levy.

However, Levy has ``asked an epidemiology team to come in and look at the data and make sure we're not missing anything,'' Finney said.

Officials on Thursday updated the number of victims from the attacks on the trade center: 4,515 were reported missing and 458 bodies had been removed, 408 of them identified.

Cheney, meanwhile, continued his New York visit Thursday night with a speech at the Alfred E. Smith Foundation Memorial Dinner, an annual event that brings together big-name politicians.

The vice president said Americans should expect more attacks by terrorists, even as the war to destroy their physical and financial bases proceeds ``on course.''

``The struggle can only end with their complete and permanent destruction, and in victory for the United States and the cause of freedom,'' he said.