NEW YORK James McRoberts still can”t believe 15 firefighters are missing from the Engine 54 Fire Station.

Paul Wong
Two New York City firefighters stand outside the Engine 54 fire station after having returned from Ground Zero. More than 135 firefighters were promoted in a ceremony yesterday following reports that hundreds are still trapped in the rubble.<br><br>DAVID

“Nobody ever can turn around and say they lost 15,” said McRoberts, a lieutenant with the Southfield, Mich., fire department. His nephew, who is alive, is a member of the Engine 54 station at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 48th Street in Manhattan.

Outside the station, relatives of firefighters lost when the World Trade Center towers collapsed wept and lit candles, so many that the entire sidewalk was covered with wax.

“This is going on at every engine house,” McRoberts said. As McRoberts spoke, dust-covered firefighters arrived from Ground Zero. The crowd around the station clapped for the new arrivals.

Firefighters and other rescue workers have been working 10- to 12-hour shifts at the site, he said, removing what is left bucket-by-bucket so no remains are missed.

McRoberts spent time at Ground Zero earlier in the week, and was planning to return Saturday.

“It”s a logistical nightmare,” he said. “With decomposition (of the bodies) it”s going to be extremely difficult.”

The toll on the entire fire department has been estimated at around 300.

“I think there were more people than normal (responding to the World Trade Center) because it was a shift change,” McRoberts said. “You had guys who were coming in early and guys who were still hanging around.”

At the Jacob Javits Convention Center at 11th Avenue and 34th Street, people from all over the country stood in a line that stretched two city blocks, waiting to become part of the relief effort.

“The crater is 60 feet deep,” said Lance Myck, a structural steelworker from Queens, N.Y., who was at Ground Zero Wednesday. “They can”t use a crane (to move the rubble) because it”s too heavy.”

Officials announced during the weekend that they will use DNA to identify many of the remains.

“We couldn”t find anybody,” Myck said. “Everything was pancaked.”

Fires still burned at the site Saturday, sending smoke across lower Manhattan. People walked down Wall Street in gas masks.

On King Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was reuniting pets with their owners.

“We”re providing food, transportation and carriers,” said ASPCA spokeswoman Deborah Sindell. “In the last two days, we”ve rescued 45 to 50 pets cats, dogs, ferrets, guinea pigs.”

Sindell said the group was sending “Humane Law Enforcement Officers” into areas near Ground Zero to bring the pets out.

“We”ve seen some extremely stressed out pets,” she said. “Some with respiratory problems.”

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