By Adam Kramer
As thousands scoured hospitals and the Internet for missing family members and friends, Queens residents joined the throng at the Family Assistance Center at Pier 94 to search for the men, women and children who disappeared in the collapse of the Twin Towers.
The city rushed to set up the center at Pier 94 on the Hudson River where the Police Department began collecting DNA to identify victims of the World Trade Center assault.
Before the pier at 57th Street and 12th Avenue became the central point for families and friends to try to locate the missing Saturday, they had lined up for days at the 69th Regiment Armory on the East Side clutching photos of their loved ones as they waited patiently for any information that could aid their search.
Emily Howell of Bayside was at the armory with her son Kevin, hoping to find out anything about her husband Michael, who worked for Alger Management in Tower One. Kevin, who had not spoken to his father in two weeks because he was on vacation, described him as someone to be counted on who loved to help people.
“I was listening to the news and it was interrupted to say a plane had hit the trade center,” Emily Howell said last Thursday. “I jumped out of bed and called the office but only got a dial tone.”
They were just two of the thousands of people outside the armory on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th streets who had gone from hospital to hospital in search of a loved one and now hoped police officers, doctors and counseling professionals inside could help them.
“He loved cricket,” said Debbie Ally of Ozone Park, describing her brother Nezem Hafiz, who worked as an analyst for Resolution International on the 94th floor in the north tower. “He was very well known and played cricket for the West Indies.”
Holding up a picture of her brother, she said the family found his name on a list put out by NY.com, a website that emerged after the attack, which said he was fine.
She said her mother accompanied her to the armory because she could not stand to be at home and feel helpless, but the stress of looking for his son was too great for their father, who has heart problems.
Throughout the day the line continued to grow and the pictures of the missing gradually covered telephone poles, walls and cars. Each family waited about two hours to get inside the armory to examine lists of the survivors, the confirmed missing and the dead.
They were told to bring clothes, dental records, combs and toothbrushes. Officials wanted anything that would help them identify the missing through DNA testing.
“I hope he is OK,” said a distraught Cathy Munoz of Flushing about her husband Francisco, who worked on the 97th floor of Tower One for Marsh USA. “I called him on his cell the day it happened and there was nothing. But today I called and heard his message, his voice.”
Once inside each filled out an eight-page missing persons report and answered detectives’ and investigators’ questions about the person they were looking for: height, weight, color of eyes and any distinguishing physical characteristics.
Colin and Sandra Neblet of Hollis went to the armory to find out any information about their son Marcus, who worked for AON on the 98th floor of the south tower. Colin said they had just seen their son the previous Sunday.
Colin Neblet said the company had just changed Marcus’ 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday to 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. so he was sure his son was inside the towers during the attack. Sandra said she hoped once they completed the forms, someone would be able to tell them where to find their son.
“Your family needs you and is looking for you,” a sobbing Robin Aruelo of Yonkers implored his sister, Milie Hromad of Flushing, another AON employee. “We believe that you are alive.”
He said one AON employee had told him Hromad was seen outside the buildings.
“We are grieving,” he said. “We are hanging in to keep her faith. We are strong and keep together. The worst part is not knowing.”
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.