NEW YORK – The last federal rescue crew left the World Trade Center on Saturday, leaving New York officials to continue the nearly month-old effort to locate nearly 5,000 bodies buried in the rubble.
The Urban Search and Rescue Task Force was the last of 20 Federal Emergency Management Agency teams sent in after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that collapsed the twin towers.
Its 62 members took off from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, boarding a plane for California after spending eight days at ground zero. They assisted New York firefighters and working as a rapid response group in the event of structural collapse.
No other outside teams are scheduled to go to the site, said Anne-Marie Jensen, task force spokeswoman in Oakland, Calif. The task force's members are from the Oakland fire department.
"The site has now been turned over completely to the New York City Fire Department and the Army Corps of Engineers," Jensen said. "It's more of a construction site at this point."
The total number of people missing dropped to 4,979 on Saturday, and the number of confirmed dead was 393. Out of that figure, 335 victims were identified.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the withdrawal of the federal team would have no affect on the operation at the site, with police and fire rescue units still on the scene.
The mayor also said that vehicular traffic will be permitted Sunday into lower Manhattan east of Broadway. Depending on how the experiment works, the area may be opened to vehicles during the week, he said.
At the site Saturday, strong wind hampered efforts to remove debris on the ground. The large cranes used to move the immense steel beams sat idle into the afternoon, with backhoes and earth movers handling most of the work. Crews using shovels still picked up the smaller pieces.
Just after dawn, drizzle started to fall on the wreckage, prompting rescue workers to don rain gear but easing the acrid smell of burning debris.
More than two dozen funerals and memorial services were scheduled Saturday for uniformed workers killed in the terrorist attacks. Twenty-three firefighters were remembered, along with two city and two Port Authority police officers.
On Sunday, National Guard members were to arrive at Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports to assist with security.