After the Towers fell: Indelible Ground Zero images capture the iron workers, firefighters and a geologist who toiled for 12-hour shifts amid the rubble, ruins and remains left in the wake of 9/11

Wednesday, September 11, 2019
By Paul Martin

On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four planes and crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon near Washington DC, and one that ended up in an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania
New York City started its recovery and cleanup effort at the 16-acre site in Lower Manhattan immediately as a show of strength for itself and a traumatized nation. Wall Street reopened mere days after the attacks
Non-uniformed personnel, such as iron workers, were essential to cut down what remained into pieces
Duane Matters, a geologist who was living near Boston, was supposed to help with the effort for a short time but stayed until mid-March, and as part of his work, took photos of the months he spent at Ground Zero
The cleanup ended on May 30, 2002, and around 1.8 million tons of debris were removed
Exposure from toxins on 9/11 and during the cleanup process has led to more than 2,000 deaths
About 10,000 first responders and others who were in the WTC area ‘have been diagnosed with cancer,’ and experts think more will die from 9/11-related diseases than from the attacks, USA Today reported
In July, President Trump signed a law that extends September 11th Victim Compensation Fund until 2090

11 September 2019

Fire festered. The noise deafened. Dust, ash and anguish loomed.

It was grueling working on the pile for 12-hour shifts, tragedy ever present, but for Duane Matters, he wouldn’t trade his time at Ground Zero for anything.

‘I think it’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life,’ he told

In the days after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 that claimed nearly 3,000 lives, New York City scrambled first to find survivors and then to begin the cleanup and recovery effort for itself and a traumatized nation. Wall Street reopened mere days after the Twin Towers collapsed.

A geologist by training, Matters had expertise in air sampling and asbestos, and AMEC, the construction company he was then working for, sent him from Boston to New York City.

He was no stranger to disasters, having worked at areas suffering from the fallout of earthquakes and hurricanes. But when he arrived at Ground Zero a week after the attacks, the devastation was unlike anything he had experienced.

‘I always refer to it as Dresden,’ he said, referring to the Allied firebombing of the city in February 1945. ‘I grew up in Germany so I was kind of cognizant of World War II. It was the 1960s – it wasn’t far removed from World War II – and it reminded me of the pictures I saw of Dresden.’

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