Rain and muck dampen Trade Center rescue efforts as Bush visits to boost morale

Friday, September 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Sopping-wet search crews slogged through the rubble of the World Trade Center on Friday under gray skies that mirrored their dwindling hopes for miracle rescues.

Though President Bush made a morale-boosting visit to the site in the afternoon, the grim reality was that for a second straight day, no survivors emerged from the debris.

Occasionally, the crews halted all work to listen for any noise _ a sharp knock or muffled voice _ that might lead them to a survivor.

``When they call for silence on the pile ... (it) caused me to say a prayer every time,'' said volunteer Richard Coppo. ``It meant there was a possibility _ a hope that we had found something.''

But all they heard was silence. And then they resumed moving rubble _ 10,425 tons and counting.

More than 4,700 people remained missing. Just five people have been pulled alive from the wreckage since two hijacked jetliners toppled the twin towers Tuesday.

New York City's two airports, where a dozen people of Middle Eastern descent were detained and then released overnight, reopened Friday after an 18-hour shutdown. One person was still being questioned, but was not charged, said Barry Mawn, head of the FBI's New York office.

``We are running down hundreds, if not thousands, of leads around the country,'' Mawn said.

Newark International Airport, close to New York, also reopened.

Work at ``ground zero'' _ the enormous mass of wreckage created when the two skyscrapers crumbled _ was complicated by a ferocious overnight downpour that turned dust into mud and made even the simplest tasks more difficult and dangerous.

Workers who have battled fatigue and choking smoke were slowed by the muck. One worker reported finding mud-caked body parts.

The official death toll remained at 184, while the number of people injured _ including those injured in the rescue efforts _ climbed to 4,300, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said.

The mayor did offer some good news: The Wall Street financial district _ closed off since the terror attacks _ should be back in business Monday. The stock markets, closed for the longest stretch since the crash of 1929, also are due to resume operations Monday.

The Staten Island ferry will start running again the same day, and city officials hope to reopen another slice of downtown to thousands of displaced residents, Giuliani said.

For the first time since the tragedy, the mayor said a handful of looters had slipped into the banned area of Manhattan below 14th Street. One man was arrested carrying $3,000 in watches from a Tourneau store.

In another incident, a woman dressed in medical scrubs and carrying a cell phone showed up at a police station insisting she had just spoken to her husband who was beneath the rubble. When her story proved false _ she also said her husband was a police officer and was with nine other survivors _ she was charged with reckless endangerment, obstructing fire operations and filing false reports.

``She's a nut,'' said Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.

Kerik said several people had been arrested for using phony identification or pretending to be volunteers, then committing crimes in the cordoned-off disaster zone. And Giuliani said a phony telemarketer was soliciting bogus contributions for a nonexistent fund to help the families of victims.

``We'd really like to catch them and make an example of them,'' the mayor said.