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View from Ground Zero


'WE'D GONE 10 days without finding any human remains, then last Sunday we uncovered 14 firemen, ' says Bovis Lend Lease LMB senior vice president Paul Ashlin, officer in charge of his company's work at the World Trade Center clean up in New York.

Speaking in London this week, his words are a graphic reminder of the human cost of the 11 September terrorist attack and of the horrors faced by the demolition teams as they sift and remove the debris.

By today (Thursday) Ashlin, an expatriate Brit, will be back in New York working with his fellow senior vice president Jim Abadie. Along with the rest of the 35 strong Bovis team they will work shifts seven days a week, 24 hours a day at the World Trade Center south tower, the Bankers Trust building, Vista Hotel and 90 West Street.

The deep basement of the tower is still on fire. 'It is believed not all the jet fuel burned before the towers collapsed but went down the shafts and collected at the bottom. The robot we sent down fried at 1500infinityC.

'We are getting photos and thermal images from NASA two or three times a week and the fire is diminishing in size, ' he adds.

Two weeks ago Bovis started work installing 4,200 tie backs to help hold up a section of the basement 'bath tub' diaphragm walls (NCE last week). This work is needed before excavation of the debris can start. The southern wall has shown most signs of movement. 'It is a 70ft wall and it has moved in five inches, ' he says.

The involvement of Ashlin and Bovis in the clean up began almost immediately after the second plane hit. The company is the biggest player in public sector work in the city. 'We offered our services straight away.'

Ashlin was in a meeting a few blocks away when the attack started. 'My girlfriend saw the second plane hit. I came out of the meeting and picked up a very excited, distraught message from her. I drove off to find her.'

A truck driver told him about the first collapse. 'I couldn't believe it.

By the time I got to Church Street, the second one went. I've never seen dust like it. Billowing grey clouds and people were caked in it.'

He said that to start with it was chaos, with five times as many people and five times as much equipment as could ever be used arriving in the area.

But within hours the Fire Department and city authorities, in particular the Department of Design & Construction (DDC), had instilled order.

When it came to appointing the four construction managers, firms just turning up a week later and smelling cash were sent away by DDC.

'I'd been working with them for five years and had built a good professional and personal relationship, ' Ashlin says.

But none of the firms are making big money from the clean up and nor do they want to. They signed $250M (£165M) work orders, yet to become formal contracts, so are operating very much on trust.

Bovis is donating a share of its profit to the Fireman's Fund and matching employee contributions to the charity dollar for dollar up to $250,000 (£165M).

'We are working on open book arrangements, ' Ashlin says. 'We get the day rates for our subcontractors, equipment and labour and receive a percentage on top. I'm spending $5M (£3.5M) a day.' Initial fears over labour shortages are unfounded, he says.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is funding the project. And every dollar is accounted for in triplicate. At the moment Ashlin is involved in negotiations to include a depreciation payment to the owners of barges and trucks being used to ferry the debris out of Manhattan.

'It will be a year before we finish here and two years before anyone can start rebuilding, ' says Ashlin 'But there is no question that New York will rebuild.'

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