Published on Thursday, October 25, 2001 in the New York Times
Official Toll Varies in Trade Center Losses
by Eric Lipton
Six weeks after the twin towers collapsed, the companies and organizations feared to have sustained the greatest losses of life have completed their official count of their missing and presumed dead. But the total, which includes those lost by Cantor Fitzgerald, the New York Fire Department, the more than 165 diners and staff at Windows on the World, as well as the passengers on the two planes, comes to only 2,405.
Even when the unofficial and single-digit losses suffered by 135 other companies at the World Trade Center are added, as well as a group of victims not connected to any particular company, the total dead in the disaster only reaches about 2,950, according to a count by The New York Times
That figure, sure to change in the days to come, is nonetheless about 1,800 fewer than the list of the dead and missing kept and updated daily by the city, which as of Tuesday stood at 4,764. City officials, who have lowered their number by about 500 over the last three weeks, refuse to offer projections on a final number as they continue to identify bodies, confirm deaths and sift through duplications and errors.
But explaining this still yawning discrepancy a month and a half after Sept. 11 has become increasingly difficult for the New York authorities involved, as news organizations, government agencies and officials from the American Red Cross and New Jersey create their own lists of losses.
For some, including relief officials and researchers studying the disaster, the lingering puzzle of the numbers of dead and missing raises the question of whether the final total of the dead could be much closer to 3,000 than the once anticipated highs of 5,000 to 6,000, figures that in many ways have taken hold in the public consciousness.
"Where are these people?" asked Luis Garcia, the American Red Cross administrator in charge of the grants being given to families of victims.
It is a question that many walk around carefully, because no one precisely knows what the historical total will be, and also because many are not inclined to risk being perceived as viewing a lower figure as some kind of victory.
To be sure, many people who died in and around the center — bystanders, visitors, undocumented day laborers or deliverymen — are not apt to quickly show up on anyone's formal list. And not all of the hundreds of businesses that operated in and underneath the towers might have publicly issued their list of the dead.
But no one involved in the process of accounting for the dead — the New York Police Department, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — knows of some additional company based at the World Trade Center that is likely to produce another significant number of losses, much less anything on the scale of the hundreds lost by Cantor Fitzgerald or Marsh & McLennan.
There has also been no report of a large tour or other organized group of visitors that would number in the hundreds. And given the considerable success before the collapse of the towers in evacuating the ground level of the trade center complex and the concourses below, there have been no indications that hundreds of people died who just happened to be passing though the area.
In New Jersey, officials first feared that the state might have lost 1,500 residents, or even more. But state officials today say that their official list of those from New Jersey dead or missing in the attacks stands at 525.
"It is possible that the casualties are fewer," said Rae Hutton, a spokeswoman for Donald T. DiFrancesco, the acting New Jersey governor.
From the start, the city has collected all reports of possibly missing people and taken them seriously. And since then, while its working number has fluctuated wildly, the New York Police Department has worked to confirm cases and rule out duplications and errors.
That effort in recent weeks has sliced the number of dead and missing from 6,700 to just below 4,800.
But throughout, citing privacy among other concerns, the city has said that it will not release the list until its work is completed, and officials will not guess when. Officials have even denied their list to relief groups eager to get money to confirmed victims.
"As long as the process is under way, the numbers are going to be refined on a daily basis," said Thomas Antenen, deputy police commissioner. "Our primary goal is not to be fast. It is to be accurate."
Any counts outside the official police department tally may be inherently flawed, Mr. Antenen said, because no one has accumulated information on the missing from as many sources as the city or had 200 police officers dedicated to confirming the accuracy of this list.
Several weeks ago, officials said that while the work was still under way, they felt they were closing in on a final count, putting the likely total of deaths between 4,500 and 5,000. The city's count is still within that range, but officials are not sure that it will remain there.
The New York Times, The Associated Press and USA Today each have lists that show totals in the 2,600-to-2,950 range for people missing or dead from the trade center attacks, including the 157 on the two planes. The A.P. and USA Today have used a variety of sources to arrive at their totals, from company lists to obituaries to news accounts. But none of these news organizations have accumulated a total count that gets near to the city police department's tally.
"It has seemed to be odd," said Anthony DeBarros, a computer database editor at USA Today, who is helping maintain the newspaper's count. "I don't want to discount the possibility that there were large numbers of people who were just visiting or working in the building that day, or people like carpenters or electricians. But still, even so, it is hard to understand where they are going to come from to reach the numbers the city is reporting."
Some of the reductions that have occurred on the list have resulted from more thorough accountings by companies that lost a large number of employees. Aon
The American Red Cross, which is giving checks to families of victims, figured that it would hear from most of the families. But at least so far, it has only processed 2,563 cases from the New York attacks.
Steven Stehr, a professor of political science at Washington State University, who is studying the process of counting the missing and the dead, said that while there is typically great emphasis placed on exactly totaling the numbers of dead in major disasters, it may not be possible in New York.
City police officials say that no one should underestimate them. What will allow them ultimately to arrive at an accurate number will be old- fashioned police work, culling through the final numbers of unconfirmed deaths by sending out detectives to root out any possible mistakes or even fraud.
"Everyone wants to have the lowest number possible," Mr. Antenen said.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company