Cleaning up Ground Zero: An emotional experience

Terri Saunders
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Local man spent two weeks lending his hands and his heart

When Roy Sceviour began to talk about a trip he made to New York City years ago, tears flooded his eyes and he took a moment before speaking. "I'd never been there before," he said quietly. "First time ever in my life." Mr. Sceviour's journey to one of the world's most famous cities was not to see the sights. It wasn't to see a few Broadway shows or visit shops like Macy's and Tiffany's. It wasn't to wander leisurely through Central Park or see the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History.

CLEAN-UP – Gander’s Roy Sceviour at Ground Zero in January 2002. Mr. Sceviour was in New York volunteering with the Salvation Army during the 9-11 clean-up.

Mr. Sceviour spent two weeks serving up meals in a makeshift cafeteria on Staten Island, feeding hundreds of volunteers and workers tasked with cleaning up what was left behind after two jumbo jets were deliberately crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, sending them crumbling to the ground.

It was just after Christmas 2001 when Mr. Sceviour, a well-known member of the Salvation Army in Gander, got the call.

"I was asked to go to New York to help," said Mr. Sceviour. "I said, 'Yes, I'll go.'"

Mr. Sceviour flew to New York in January 2002 and was put to work in a temporary cafeteria set up alongside what used to be a landfill site on Staten Island, a small borough just south of the tip of Manhattan island. A large group of volunteers, many of them from the Salvation Army throughout North America and groups from Baptist churches around the U.S. and Canada, spent every day cooking and feeding the scores of men and women who had the grim task of carting debris from what became known as Ground Zero to Staten Island.

"They would put big piles of it on barges and bring it across the river," said Mr. Sceviour. "The piles would be put out on the ground and workers and volunteers would go through each pile very carefully with rakes."

It was tedious but important work. Although his main job as a volunteer was in the cafeteria, Mr. Sceviour said there were times he lent a hand with the raking, work which was overseen by officials from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. The items they would find in the piles of scorched steel and crushed concrete were a constant reminder of what had happened just a few miles away just four months earlier.

"We were finding police officers' badges and fire fighters' badges and things like false teeth," said Mr. Sceviour, his eyes once again filling with tears. "Given what had happened, it was things like that which were needed to positively confirm a person had actually died there."

From day one

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 are etched in the collective memories of people around the world. Ask just about anyone you meet on the street if they remember where they were and what they were doing when the planes hit the towers, and it's likely they'll recall in an instant.

For the people of Gander, including Mr. Sceviour, that day quickly became unlike any other in their memories, as the terrorist actions occurring thousands of kilometres away in another country set in motion one of the largest humanitarian efforts this little corner of the world had ever known or likely will ever know.

Mr. Sceviour spent that day preparing to care for dozens of folks from all over the world at the Salvation Army citadel on Airport Boulevard. He helped prepare sleeping areas in the church and assisted with the packaging of toiletry kits for the men, women and children who later became known as the Plane People.

"We were finding police officers' badges and fire fighters' badges and things like false teeth." — Roy Sceviour

"Wherever there was a surface, someone was laying down on it," Mr. Sceviour said. "We had the church filled with people and we did what we could do to help them with whatever they needed."

After several days of caring for the visitors and watching them slowly leave Gander and return to their homes in countries around the world, Mr. Sceviour thought his connection to the events of that terrible day would end there.

"I didn't imagine I'd ever go to the actual site," he said. "But when I was told how much they needed volunteers down there, I knew I had to go."

Known the world over as an organization built on a foundation of humanitarianism, the Salvation Army is often called into service when disasters strike. Whether it's to find replacement furniture and clothing for a family who lost everything in house fire or to assist survivors of an earth quake, the Salvation Army and its officers are there. And not just to serve a meal or lend a hand. They also open their hearts to those in need of comfort.

"We were there to counsel people as well," said Mr. Sceviour. "Sometimes all people needed to do was talk."

Organizations: The Salvation Army, World Trade Centre, U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Cantor Fitzgerald Hilltop Cafe

Geographic location: Ground Zero, New York City, Staten Island Gander U.S. Manhattan island North America Canada

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  • Kim Sceviour Wagg
    September 11, 2011 - 17:40

    Thank You for writing such a wonderful article :) My Dad is my hero :) He always said to us " Do unto others as you would have them do unto you " My Dad has always given his heart and soul to helping people . He is a kind and gentle man and a great Father . He has made Me ,Karen and Kelly the people we are today. Again thank you :) Kim Wagg