Estimate of Pentagon Repair Seen As `Hundreds of Millions'

Saturday, September 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Recovery workers at the Pentagon reported Saturday finding many bodies of those killed when a hijacked jetliner crashed into the building.

``We are now getting into the heart of the crash site,'' said Edward P. Plaugher, the Arlington, Va., fire chief. He declined to say how many bodies were found.

Forty-eight bodies have been recovered from the Pentagon, said Bruce Baughman, operations director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Government authorities have said 189 people _ a combination of military and civilian employees at the Defense Department and the passengers and crew in the plane _ were believed killed.

``Anything like this I would not probably be describing it adequately to you,'' Plaugher said. ``It's just not capable of putting in words that type of destruction, that type of death that you're seeing.''

He also said several pieces of evidence were found, but would not say if they were parts of American Airlines Flight 77.

A damaged voice recorder and the charred flight data recorder from the hijacked have been sent to the FBI. Officials were hopeful the two ``black boxes'' would provide clues about the plane's final moments.

The estimate for repairing just the damaged portion of the historic, 50-year-old building will run into ``the hundreds of millions,'' said Lee Evey, the manager of the Pentagon's ongoing billion-dollar renovation program.

The repair will take ``a couple of years,'' Evey told a Pentagon briefing on Saturday.

The renovation of the building had been underway for several years and is expected to run through 2012. ``We will do it as quickly as we can,'' he added.

Evey said the hijacked aircraft hit a portion of the building that had been renovated and reinforced with blast resistant windows, a special reinforced steel construction, and even fire-resistant Kevlar cloth.

``The building absorbed a tremendous amount of punishment,'' he said, adding, ``This could have been much, much worse.''

Two of his workers who were about 50 to 75 feet from the airplane's entry site on the outermost ring of the building - and in the renovated section - were shaken up by the incident ``but didn't have a scratch on them,'' he said. The new construction gave them time to crawl through four floors of offices, searching for survivors, before a section collapsed, he added.

A $145 million contract was awarded Friday to Hensel Phelps Construction Co., of Chantilly, Va., to begin rebuilding part of the damaged portion, he said. The contract has the potential value of up to $758 million for the future renovation of the undamaged portions of the building, said a statement issued by the Pentagon.

Four minor fires flared as workers sifted through the rubble through Friday night and tried to shore up the collapsed section of the Pentagon.

Plaugher would not elaborate on the condition of the site except to say it was damaged extensively by fires from the crash and from pools of jet fuel that have exploded since.

The work continued Saturday morning, with construction crews also in the process of building an all-weather road so they can remove heavy pieces of the building.

Plaugher expects evidence collection and removal of bodies to last about 10 more days.

On Friday, the Army's chief of staff, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, said the service ``will keep faith with our fallen comrades and their loved ones.'' He spoke at a news conference where the names of 74 people unaccounted for since Tuesday's attack were released.

The attack on the Pentagon came only moments after two other hijacked planes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York. Government authorities said 189 people _ a combination of military and civilian employees on the ground and the passengers and crew in the plane _ were believed to have died at the Pentagon.

``We are in pain, but we are also angry,'' Shinseki said at a news conference with Army Secretary Thomas E. White.

``September 11 has already been described ... as the darkest day in American history,'' White said. ``I would only say to our adversaries that I would learn to watch carefully, for you're about to see our finest hour in the near future.''

Earlier, at a prayer service, men and women wiped away tears as they sang ``God Bless America.''

About one-third of the 6 million-square-foot building is unusable because of the collapse of the section where the plane hit and because of the ensuing fire and water damage, said John F. Irby, director of federal facilities.