NEW YORK (AP) As the smoldering ashes of the World Trade Center slowly yielded unimaginable carnage, rescuers scoured the area that has become known as “Ground Zero” for anyone trapped under the rubble who may have survived the collapse of the twin towers.

Paul Wong
Firemen are deployed yesterday near the site where the 110-story World Trade Center used to stand in lower Manhattan, known as Ground Zero.

In one indication of the potential death toll, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was asked about a report that the city has requested 6,000 body bags from federal officials. “Yes, I believe that”s correct,” said the mayor.

In another, 2,500 people visited a grief counseling center handling questions about missing family members yesterday.

The last few floors that remained of the trade center”s south tower collapsed yesterday afternoon in yet another cloud of thick smoke. No injuries were reported, but rescuers were evacuated from part of the area where the 1,350-foot titans stood.

Police and fire officials said there were problems with other “mini-collapses” among some badly damaged buildings nearby, and when the towers were destroyed, the Marriott World Trade Center hotel fell with them.

The search and rescue mission continued despite the problems.

The devastation turned the concrete canyons of lower Manhattan into a dust-covered ruin of girders and boulders of broken concrete. A Brooks Brothers clothing store became a morgue, where workers brought any body parts they could find.

The workers” grim task was interrupted by brief epiphanies of life, when a fortunate victim was pulled alive from the wreckage of the steel-and-glass buildings. In all, five victims, three of them police officers, have been pulled from the wreckage alive.

In Washington, the Bush administration disclosed that the White House and Air Force One may have been among the targets of Tuesday”s devastation.

The investigation swept from a Boston hotel to Florida and points beyond all in an attempt to determine who was behind the attacks in which two hijacked airliners barreled into the 110-story towers, a third dove into the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in western Pennsylvania.

President Bush condemned the onslaught as “acts of war” and NATO gave the United States its backing for a military response if the attacks were directed from abroad.

While investigators and diplomats moved forward in their tasks, progress for rescuers in New York was slow. Cranes and heavy machinery were used, but gingerly, for fear of dislodging wreckage and harming any survivors. Searchers with picks and axes worked slowly, too sometimes when they opened pockets in the debris, fires flared.

Companies that leased space in the trade center began realizing the awful consequences of the violence. Thirty-eight people from Fred Alger Management Inc. were missing, including the company”s president, David Alger Terence Adderley Jr., 22, of Bloomfield Hills and David Alger, who earned his master”s in business administration from the University of Michigan in 1968..

“The terrorist attack is a personal tragedy for my family as well as for all of our employees and their families,” said Fred Alger, the company founder and David”s brother.

Giuliani said the best estimate is that a “a few thousand” victims would be left in each building, potentially including 250 missing firefighters and police officers. Among the missing was John O”Neill, head of security for the trade center and a former FBI expert on terrorism.

There were 82 confirmed fatalities a number that was sure to grow. Another 1,700 injuries were reported.

The four hijacked planes carried 266 people, none of whom survived. Officials from the military services said about 150 people, mostly Army personnel, were missing in the attack on the Pentagon. There had been estimates of 800 dead, but that was discounted by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Authorities had “specific credible information” that both Air Force One and the White House were targets, and that “the plane that hit the Pentagon may have been headed for the White House,” said Sean McCormack, spokesman for President Bush”s National Security Council.

There also was speculation that, in the case of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, the hijackers intended to jet elsewhere but were thwarted by passengers. One of them, Thomas Burnett, a 38-year-old business executive, told his wife by cell phone “a group of us are going to do something” before the crash.

The rubble at the trade center was taken by boat to a former Staten Island garbage dump, where the FBI and other investigators searched for evidence.

One volunteer, Peter Coppola, said he had found four dead bodies in his 24 hours of searching. “The air down there is totally toxic,” he said.

New Yorkers were told to avoid lower Manhattan and the financial markets were to remain closed at least until tomorrow.

Schools remained closed and the New York Yankees” game was postponed, along with the rest of the major-league baseball schedule, including today”s games. Many other sporting events were either canceled or postponed.

Joe Allbaugh, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, toured the site of the tragedy with local and state politicians as the federal government begins assessing what more can be done to help with search, rescue and restoration.

Last night the Empire State Building and Pennsylvania Station were partly evacuated because of fears bombs had been planted. Police and Amtrak officials said both incidents were unfounded.

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