President Bush lifted the spirits of bone-weary rescue workers here today in a tightly controlled inspection of the shattered remains of the World Trade Center, where the search-and-rescue crews continued to labor amid dwindling hope that they will find more survivors.
Surrounded by applauding firefighters, police officers, construction tradesmen, local politicians and others, Bush saw for himself the deadly result of the two hijacked aircraft that smashed into the trade center's twin, 110-story towers Tuesday morning as part of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
Speaking through a bullhorn from atop a pile of rubble, his arm draped around veteran New York firefighter Bob Beckwith, Bush said: "America today is on bended knee in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families that mourn. This nation stands with the good people of New York City, and New Jersey and Connecticut, as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens."
Someone in the crowd shouted, "I can't hear you," and Bush replied: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."
The workers began pumping their fists and erupted in a chant: "USA! USA! USA!"
Before his remarks, Bush took a 10-minute helicopter tour with Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and New York Gov. George Pataki, surveying the smoldering rubble with welding arcs lighting up the gray day. He said later that he was "shocked at the size of the destruction." Security was extraordinarily tight and Air Force One was escorted by fighter jets on the journey from Washington.
Before Bush arrived, prayer services were held across the city, and tonight there were candlelight vigils at Lincoln Center Plaza and other locations. Rain fell here Thursday night and this morning New York was shrouded in gray drizzle. The wet weather slowed the painstaking task of removing debris, which became heavier and slippery as dust turned to mud.
The skies gradually cleared during the day, but not so the grim reality at the southern tip of Manhattan Island.
The numbers released by officials only hinted at the extent of the death and destruction. Three days after the collapse of the twin towers, only 124 bodies have been removed from the rubble, and 59 of those have been identified. But authorities said that 4,717 people have been reported missing.
Of those who did escape the carnage, about 3,200 people have been treated at local hospitals, they said. Many of those were rescue workers suffering from respiratory and eye problems caused by the acrid smoke that billowed from the ruins.
Giuliani said that 13,000 tons of debris have been removed from the World Trade Center site in 1,400 truckloads. But an immense amount of rubble remains littering the ground.
As the search-and-rescue work continued, local officials warned that the spread of rumors and false reports would hinder the efforts of the rescue crews. One such incident Thursday night led to the arrest of a woman who claimed to have had cellular phone contact with 10 people buried alive under the trade center's collapsed Tower One.
Authorities charged the woman with reckless endangerment and making false reports and were also investigating whether federal charges can be filed against her.
"She's a nut," Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik declared at a news conference today. He said the woman, wearing medical scrubs, approached rescue workers and claimed that her husband was a Port Authority police officer and that he had called her from the rubble and said he was trapped with nine other people. Eventually, authorities determined that the name and badge number she supplied were false, but by then rescuers were already furiously digging into the debris.
"This is extremely dangerous," Kerik said. "We have thousands of people working at the site, and people got very aggressive. There are firefighters and cops on those lines with brothers, family members, partners who they are looking for. They are very emotional about what they are doing."
Giuliani today also turned his attention to a longer-term problem that confronts this city -- the economic impact from the terrorist attack and all the disruptions that it caused.
The three New York area airports -- La Guardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark -- resumed operations this morning. The New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq Stock Market are scheduled to reopen Monday, and Giuliani prodded other businesses in the financial district to do the same.
Congress approved a major aid measure for New York this morning and a state package of emergency funding is already on the way to the city. Giuliani said he hoped that business leaders will not decide to rebuild their companies elsewhere.
"We're very concerned about the loss of jobs and helping businesses to rebuild," Giuliani said. "They will get a significant amount of help so that they cannot only reestablish but grow and flourish even more."
Economic recovery is a long-term task, but for those New Yorkers with missing loved ones, there was only one immediate concern. They gathered again today at the Armory on Lexington Avenue as the rain drenched the fluttering photos taped to every available surface. Many of the photo posters contained phone numbers, pleas for help and poignant messages. "We Love You Daddy. Come Home," one said.
Some of the people who came to the Armory today brought with them items that could signal the end of their fragile hopes. They carried T-shirts, hairbrushes and toothbrushes, from which DNA samples could be extracted to aid in identifying the dead.