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The Forgotten Casualties

September 01, 2006  |  by Shelly Feuer Domash

Not many people will ever forget that 2,752 people—including 23 NYPD and 37 Port Authority officers—were brutally murdered in New York on 9/11. But after five years, it appears many may be forgetting the men and women—including officers from the NYPD and Port Authority—who were injured and wounded that day.

There are no statistics as to the exact number of officers injured on 9/11. There are also no statistics as to how many officers are still suffering from the effects of spending hours at the site, sifting through the debris at first in hopes of finding survivors, later in the grim task of searching for remains.

It’s rare that anyone thinks about the brave officers who survived the attack but lost pieces of their bodies and souls to its effects. There are many of them. The following is a look at two of them, one from the NYPD and the other from the Port Authority.

Officer Joseph DeMorato

Besides his wife and kids, Joseph DeMorato had two great loves. One was being a paramedic; the other was being a cop. Five years after 9/11, he has his family, but he doesn’t have his work. His career ended as a result of the World Trade Center attack.

The NYPD would not release information to Police on how many of its officers were wounded on 9/11, and it would not cooperate with this story. But DeMorato says based on what he saw that day that he is a member of a large club that no one wanted to join.

DeMorato says he always wanted to be a cop. And when he finally was able to get on the job, he took it very seriously, even to the point of running a few miles and working out just about every day. He believed that if he stayed fit, he’d be on the job and healthy until his retirement.

Then on Sept. 11, 2001, DeMorato was working a routine election detail when he got the call to report to the Trade Center. From that moment on, his life would never be the same.

Descending Into Hell

DeMorato jumped into a police van and took the tunnel into Manhattan.

He came out of the tunnel and into a scene from hell. “There was debris everywhere and smoldering bodies. It looked like a meat packing truck had dropped its load. All we saw was debris and body parts,” DeMorato says. “It really looked like a war zone; there was carnage and parts of the airplane. We didn’t know what was going on.”

DeMorato had no real time to react emotionally to what he saw. But he remembers that the cop who was driving did. “After he ran over a body, the other cop started crying, and I said to him, ‘Just get us to where we need to go,’” DeMorato remembers.

Arriving at their mustering area, the 10 officers in the van were ordered to stay within sight of their sergeant. It was an order that became impossible to follow.

The Thunder Clap

Looking up at one of the towers, DeMorato saw “people trying to shinny down the side of the building, people falling down, people jumping out of windows.”

He wanted to do anything he could to help. But his immediate task was to direct the civilians away from the towers. DeMorato focused on the living, trying to get them to safety.

Then he felt a rumbling and what sounded like thunder.

The first tower was collapsing.

A large, thick cloud of dust, and smoke, and debris came down the street, knocking DeMorato down a stairway. “It felt like someone took talcum powder and stuffed it into my face. I couldn’t breathe. I felt myself falling but couldn’t feel any stairs. The cloud just blew me down,” he says.

Knocked off his feet by the force of the cloud, DeMorato tried to breathe, but he was drowning in the dust. He tried taking small gasps of air, but dust filled his mouth and nose.

DeMorato was sure that he was dying. “The only thing I could think of was, ‘Here I just moved into a new home, and I would never see it.’ I was worried about my wife and my kids and who was going to take care of them.”

Thoughts of death quickly passed. DeMorato was determined to live and to get back to work. He remembered that he was wearing a bandana under his helmet. He stumbled to his feet and put the bandana over his mouth. A woman with a baby carriage bumped into him, and he gave the bandana to the baby and pulled his T-shirt over his mouth.

Not realizing how hurt he was, DeMorato focused on getting the civilians who had jumped into the Hudson River out safely. Before long, help arrived.

“I don’t know how they got there so fast. I don’t know if it was just that I experienced big lapses in time or they just got there, but there were boats from New Jersey that were out there helping,” DeMorato says.

DeMorato and a group of officers then headed down a street where a man begged them to help his wife who was trapped in a building. They went to the apartment, but the woman was dead.

DeMorato contacted his lieutenant who was trying to locate all of his officers. When DeMorato mentioned one that was missing, he was told that officer had showed up at headquarters, put his gun and shield on the desk and said, “I quit.”

One of his fellow officers noticed DeMorato was injured. His knee was so swollen his pants were tight around it. He was brought to a central place, his gun and ID were put in a plastic bag, and he was escorted to a hospital.

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