Saturday, April 13, 2013

Out of disaster, great ideas.

I was reading a small item in the paper last week when a dingdong went off in my brain and I went searching through my huge file under the inspiring title of "Blog Fodder". I knew the article I wanted was there, after all I'd just spent a day going through the pages, throwing out anything I'd lost interest in or technology had raced by it.

What started my 'Indianna' search was reading that New York city officials are still cleaning up debris from the World Trade Centre.  They had another 560 cubic metres of material including some found after the demolition of the former Deutsche Bank Building.  Since 2006, the remains of 34 additional victims have been identified, mostly from DNA analysis.

I had kept an interview from 2008 given by anthropologist Professor Richard Gould.  His wife was working near the Twin Towers on the day of the planes and three weeks after the towers came down Richard Gould, walked to Ground Zero.  In the grey ashy residue lying everywhere in lower Manhatten, he found fragmented human remains even a piece of human scapula.
He realized then that remains would be found a great distance away.  He wrote and pestered those in charge to listen to him and go further afield but already the washing down hoses were at work and he knew what was being lost.

In 2002 he was finally invited by the medical examiner's office to do a trial excavation outside Ground Zero and this was the start of his Forensic Archaeology Recovery Group, a team of volunteers who help recover human remains after disasters.
Work was finally stopped at Ground Zero early March, 2008 but human remains were still being found way outside the immediate area.  Paper containing human blood stains was found in Brooklyn, several miles from Manhatten.  Professor Gould thinks they will still be finding material for years as it works its way underground even now remains have been found in underground pipes.

Nearly 3000 lives were lost but around 1,100 to 1,200 people remained unidentified in 2008 but in 2013, victims identified have gone up to 1,634.  Disaster archaeology is an outgrowth of archaeology, using the same methods to find and identify remains of recent disasters as they do find physical data of ancient disasters.  The team cleans up the human remains and physical effects left behind so they can be identified for forensic and legal purposes.  The team must record exactly where, when and how they were found as this is important for the court proceedings following any disaster.  Their archaeological skills such as surveying, site recording, sieving material and DNA collection are all important as is their ability to work as a team. This team ethic is important for their mental health,  recovering humans remains will never be easy, it's stressful and counsellors are often needed.

One man's good idea has helped survivors of many disasters over the years.  

6 comments:

Kath Lockett said...

Wow. I honestly had no idea that the remains (those found so far, anyway) had been found as far away as Brooklyn!

Good on him for not letting go of this issue!

Elephant's Child said...

I am a bit of a fence sitter here. I can see (sadly) that identification is sometimes necessary for legal purposes. At some stage this week I read an article quoting some of the families of people killed at the Twin Towers, well nigh ballistic with rage because they had no remains 'and couldn't achieve closure'. And I don't think that a teaspoon (or less) of remains would give me closure. I think I would have acknowledged that they were gone by now.
Which doesn't take away one iota of my respect for Professor Gould.

River said...

I read about this somewhere quite some time ago, how remains were being found over a much larger area than originally thought. I suspect some will be found for many years and I hope they all can be identified. If only so people's minds can be put at rest about their loved missing ones.

Ann ODyne said...

Hi Coppy, Kath, El Chi, River.
Anyone like another drink?

A teaspoon wouldn't give me 'closure' and neither would an entire body.
Prof. Gould is trying to make the whole damn thing make sense.
Can you imagine the truckloads of anti-depressants still dispensed in Manhattan each week?
Coppy - your information retrieval system is genius. x x

Andrew said...

I guess there are people who want closure by having their lost one verified as dead but I think I would prefer to just forget.

I would love to have a peek in your blog fodder file, especially at things that technology has raced past.

JahTeh said...

Kath, I remember seeing the towers come down and the billowing clouds moving away.
I knew it wasn't just building dust. He worked in New Orleans after Katrina because a lot of the coffins in the old district floated away and bones were everywhere.

EC, after 7 years you can be declared deceased and having lost a son, closure is nothing but crap. Religion has a lot to do with this, if the body isn't recovered and buried, how will the loved ones get to Heaven is the thinking here.

River, they never thought to look on rooftops miles from Ground Zero. I watched the people going down to look in the days after and all I could think of was, they're breathing in people. The problem is that the authorities think a lot of people went missing to start a new life but it's never spoken out loud.

Annie O, I could do with a Brandy Alexander right about now.
What the Prof has set up is now the model for all disasters, look everywhere, up and down and far inland like after Fukashima.
Did you ever see that programme where they refused to acknowledge that the fire department survivors could have gotten the lung disease and cancers from working in the wreckage. Now that made me furious, the sick people were travelling to Mexico to buy cheap drugs because they couldn't afford U.S. drugs.

Andrew, for my part I would just like to know it was quick.
Technology, try iPhones but the best is the predictions of global warming, moving faster than ever predicted. Fortunately I don't usually keep info on the Australian Political scene, now that is a mess. Now that Barnaby Clutz is going for the Reps, I hope he loses everything.