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Landfill debris may yield clues to disaster

By Jason Bellini

STATEN ISLAND, New York (CNN) -- It's the second-to-last stop for the wreckage of the World Trade Center disaster. At the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, debris from the World Trade Center disaster is sorted, sifted, raked and sniffed through for clues.

"As the piles are being dropped off from the vehicles, they're spreading the material out fairly flat on the ground, and then the dogs are running through the piles looking for any remains they can identify," said Bruce Barton of Rescue International, which is helping oversee the canine recovery team.

Trained noses help the trained eyes of the FBI, New York Police Department, Federal Aviation Administration and other investigators.

The agents and their volunteers know this junk contains answers, the most pressing of which are the identities of the thousands of people still missing.

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"If we can find something as small as a finger or a tip of a finger, even, that could allow the police departments to hopefully get a DNA match on somebody. And that's going to allow closure for families," Barton said.

Little things tug hard at the humanity of the people responsible for this gruesome work.

"Today I found a woman's necklace. It was in the rubble -- a small beautiful necklace," retired police officer Joseph Piraino said. "What stays with me is that necklace was on somebody in the World Trade Center that day."

But little else is even worth saving. One pile contains crushed police cars and fire engines, sad and unsalvageable.

In another spot are the thick steel beams that once held up the floors of the World Trade Center, now warped, severed and ready for burial.

The whole effort will take months. Of the 68,000 tons of debris already delivered to the site from Manhattan, only a third has been rummaged through.

"We're trying to do it as quickly as we possibly can," said James Luongo of the NYPD. "I hear estimations from six months to a year. I don't know."

• Rescue International
• Federal Aviation Administration
• Federal Bureau of Investigation
• N.Y. Department of Sanitation - Fresh Kills Landfill

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