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SALVATION ARMY AT GROUND ZERO BRINGING RELIEF TO RESCUE WORKERS

Rescue workers stopping for food or drink at the emergency relief canteens at ground zero in Manhattan often find something even more useful: help in dealing with anger, despair and other forms of emotional distress.

That is how the Salvation Army is delivering counseling assistance to police, firefighters, military personnel and other rescue workers at the site of the World Trade Center, Maj. Arthur Carlson, coordinator of the organization's Buffalo Area Services, said Tuesday.

Carlson, who led a team of seven grief counselors to New York on Friday, returned Monday night "to tell Buffalo what the story is, because we are so removed from it." The other six counselors, who are working 12-hour shifts at ground zero, will return Friday.

Carlson said the Buffalo counselors are working the night shift at relief canteens positioned around the rubble that was once the World Trade Center.

"Sometimes (rescue workers) come for something to eat or for some water" to soothe dry throats or flush dust out of burning eyes, he said. "When you give some water, conversation starts."

The conversation frequently leads to more therapeutic discussion -- counseling that helps rescuers cope with the enormity of the disaster, the frustration of being unable to find more survivors and the sense of general hopelessness about the situation, Carlson suggested.

Salvation Army counselors also are working in the office of the New York City medical examiner, where people go to make identifications, he said.

There, medical personnel are collecting DNA samples from toothbrushes and other personal items for use in identifying recovered body parts.

Despite overwhelming indications that there is little likelihood of finding more survivors, Carlson said he was struck by the long lines of people at hospitals and morgues, frantically searching for missing husbands, wives, sons, daughters, parents or friends.

"There is a quiet resolve that 'I want to find an answer: Does anyone know where my loved one is? Do you have any information, any (body) parts, any word?' " he said.

Realistically, he acknowledged, because of the intense heat, estimated to have been as high as 2,300 degrees, "there will be some people who are never found."

"People understand that, but they need hope," Carlson observed.

Carlson, who has been with the Salvation Army for 40 years, said he has worked at the scenes of earthquakes, floods and airplane crashes but has "never experienced something like this."

At ground zero, which he described as "hell's door," Carlson said a firefighter showed him a woman's shoe he had recovered. It had a foot in it.

A short distance away, on the West Side Highway, ambulances were lined up for more than a mile waiting to rush injured survivors to hospitals. None came.

"There was not the survivor ratio you are accustomed to when you have a catastrophe," he said.

Carlson related how he gave a ride to a disheveled-looking construction worker who appeared to be having trouble walking as he left the disaster area in late afternoon. He turned out to be an investment banker.

"I figured that digging in the rubble, sweeping a sidewalk or carrying water would be better than staying home," the man told Carlson.

Carlson also told about a man who went to the Windows on the World Restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center at 7:30 on the morning of the disaster to apply for a job there. The man was safely out of the building long before the plane hit. His job application was found intact the next day -- seven blocks away.

Pointing out that the Salvation Army traditionally is the last agency to leave a disaster scene, Carlson predicted that "Buffalo will be sending people to New York for months to come."

As of Monday, he noted, 22,000 tons of rubble had been removed from the site. But that is only 1 1/2 percent of the total that has to be cleared away.

Carlson said he still doesn't know how experiencing the horror at ground zero has changed him.

"I have seen grown men who are tough and seasoned who are a little unsure," he said.

"This is going to change us all. I think sometimes we find out how strong we are through difficult times."

e-mail: dcondren@buffnews.com

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