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Work at crash site raises prospect of residents' return

The charred, mangled pieces of Continental Flight 3407 have been carted off by tractor-trailers. The remains of the 50 victims have almost all been recovered. The residents of Long Street in Clarence Center are awaiting word, any day now, about when they will be allowed back into their homes.

Five days after a Continental Connection flight crashed into this quiet neighborhood, a sense of normalcy is slowly beginning to return.

"In another couple of days, it will all seem like a dream, but, of course, it will never be the same for the people affected," said the Rev. Charles G. Biegner, who lives just a couple of blocks from the crash site.

The grim task of identifying the remains of the victims is expected to scale down by the end of the week at the crash site, officials said Tuesday.

But giving names to all the dead may take weeks as the focus of efforts now turns to the work of medical examiners and their colleagues in the morgue, said Dr. Anthony J. Billittier IV, Erie County health commissioner.

Most of the searching for human remains was expected to be completed by Tuesday night, and Billittier expressed hope that loved ones of those who died in the crash may find comfort in knowing that what remains could be found were recovered.

Nevertheless, some recovery efforts will continue through the end of the week, when crews are expected to begin removing soil for testing for contamination, along with more debris.

Billittier said the medical examiner at the site will remain until she is comfortable that everything possible has been done to recover the remains.

Officials have made significant progress at identification through fingerprinting, dental records and distinguishing features or personal belongings, he said. As a last resort, officials are turning to DNA testing of tissue.

In the meantime, plans are under way to allow residents who were evacuated from Long Street to move back.

"A re-entry plan for residents to return to the Long Street neighborhood is being drafted," said State Police Capt. Steven A. Nigrelli, who says the goal is to return residents to their homes this weekend.

The two brick houses on either side of where the Wielinski family residence had stood at 6038 Long St. incurred minor structural damage, including to the windows and a garage, said David R. Metzger, Clarence's senior code-enforcement officer.

"Other than that, the worst of it is lawn damage, some spattered mud and minimal heat damage," said Metzger, who has inspected the 12 homes on the street where mandatory evacuations were conducted.

Metzger also hopes Long Street residents can return by the weekend, though he says that may be an optimistic estimate.

Many other Clarence Center families living close to the crash site voluntarily left in order to avoid the hectic scene of hundreds of emergency personnel coming and going from the site since Thursday night.

"Many left and stayed with relatives because it was just easier. They had to show their ID every time to get in the area," said Linda A. Newell, a Clarence Center Post Office clerk.

Tuesday, commotion around the crash site seemed to be winding down.

Members of an Israeli emergency response team tried to gain access to the scene Tuesday afternoon but were turned away by law enforcers.

A small contingent of media kept vigil behind the crime scene tape at Goodrich Road and Maple Street.

An FBI Evidence Recovery Team combed the lawns surrounding at least three Goodrich Road homes.

Onlookers marveled at the fact that only one house was destroyed and wondered aloud what would become of the site. Probably best left empty as a memorial, they agreed.

At about 4 p.m., pieces of construction equipment were hosed down at Maple and Long as they prepared to leave. A pair of firefighters carried a ladder back to their truck.

And throughout the sunny, blue-sky afternoon, air traffic continued above.

e-mail: hdavis@buffnews.com

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