9/11 cleanup supervisor wants to help Japan tsunami victims

Posted By: Pti
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9/11 terrorists attack on World Trade Center
New York, Sep 3: As Charlie Vitchers looks back over the last decade and remembers nine months overseeing the cleanup of the World Trade Center after the September 11 terrorist attacks, he vividly recalls countless examples of selflessness during New York City's darkest hours.

As the "go-to guy" for the hundreds of people and numerous agencies involved in the massive effort to remove rubble after the hijacked jetliners crashed into the Twin Towers and debris spread over a wide area, he readily recalls the details.

"There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about 9/11," he told Kyodo News in a recent interview near the site, emphasizing the toll the cleanup took on everyone involved in the lengthy and complicated process.

"I remember precisely a lot of things." Despite the horrors that unfolded that day, Vitchers witnessed how quickly local, national and even international volunteers rallied to lend a hand in the days and months afterward.

The 53-year-old remembers a Japanese group who played a critical role recovering remains from the perimeters of what became known as "Ground Zero."

"They went up there and did a great job and I don't know how they did it because it was terrible," he added. "That was a very significant part of seeing the goodness of people willing to take a task like that on."

Vitchers was especially grateful to the Japanese who had traveled so far and overcame language barriers to complete the delicate task.

When the March 11 disaster captured the world through news images of black tsunami waves swallowing people, buildings and whole towns in northeastern Japan, he thought of the team who had stepped in to aid New Yorkers in 2001.

Since then he has been trying to find a way to "pay it forward" to the rescuers by attempting to seek out the right channels to help Tohoku survivors rebuild.

As a part of a nonprofit organization called The New York Says Thank You Foundation, which was created as a result of the help that poured in after the terror attacks and assists victims of other disasters, Jeff Parness, the organization's founder, and Vitchers now want to spearhead a project to build something in Japan.

"I would rather swing a hammer and give you (survivors) one million dollars worth of work and to get to know you (survivors)," he explained, emphasizing the value of personal involvement over monetary donations.

Part of the foundation's appeal is in cementing friendships by helping community members rebuild vital structures and encouraging them to do the same for future victims.

Due to logistical and language issues the American organizers are looking for the appropriate local authorities willing to work with them to identify a community in need.

"To be able to help direct a major project over there would be something I would love to do," he said. "We can help. I don't care if it is planting trees, debris removal, it is stuff that needs to be done."

His involvement in projects affiliated with New York Says Thank You where the idea of helping out international disaster survivors for the first time or by starting new organizations such as a new one that aims to provide homes for returning veterans who are disabled, is what keeps him going after living through 9/11 himself.

"I would rather have that as an outlet...(positive work). You can't squash a memory, memories just don''t go away and to try and suppress it is only going to be emotional turmoil," he said.

"Why should you forget? Make it, turn it into something good, take your experience in 9/11 and make it good for other people."

PTI (Kyodo)

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