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'A city that mourns'

"'A city that mourns'" Continued...

Issue: "Arafat: The devil you know," Sept. 20, 2003

His job was to map the surge cloud created by the collapse of both towers, to chart both the path of destruction and what physicists call a "shock cocoon," areas of safety in the midst of the destruction.

So he spent weeks in parts of the South Tower, and in stairwell B of the North Tower, places only a few feet wide where people somehow survived. He examined intact phone books embedded in car roofs and discovered a pile of 300 law books, charting their safe trajectory out of one of the buildings. An unscathed Beanie Baby, he says, "is still giving me nightmares."

In between expeditions into the smoldering rubble, he rested at nearby St. Paul's, where he says parishioners tried to persuade him out of his agnosticism. "If you are a scientist, you follow St. Thomas. You believe only what you can see," he tells WORLD.

What he did see went undetected by many rescue workers: steel girders jutting from the building wreckage twisted "identically" to the way he found the stern of the Titanic.

"Every new piece, every new bend in the metal changes the picture. I have a good photomosaic of this building in my mind," he says a little regretfully. But his research is now being applied to predict and minimize the destruction of future manmade and natural disasters.

"What we are learning about the physics of the downblast and the surge cloud could one day save more lives than the terrorists took," he says.

Surrounded by Sept. 11 memorabilia, Mr. Pellegrino is the rare pilgrim who spies a future in Ground Zero's past.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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