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Officials say hunt for remains at ground zero was cut short

NEW YORK -- As the city agency managing the excavation of World Trade Center rubble was wrapping up its work in 2002, several officials handling the painstaking recovery of human remains warned that things were moving too fast.

They believed that more bone fragments of the lost 2,749 victims could be found, that the city shouldn't be rushing such an important task. But they were overruled, two of those officials told The Associated Press this week as the city uncovered dozens of bones entombed for more than five years in hidden underground cavities at ground zero.

"I knew that this was going to happen -- they really just wanted us out of there," said retired Police Lieutenant John McArdle, the New York Police Department's ground zero commander. "There was not a good exit strategy for some of these places, and if there was, it was poorly done."

A utility crew made a discovery of remains last week in a manhole along the western edge of the site. Forensic experts have since dug down and found more than 100 bones and fragments.

The notion that rescue workers were rebuffed by a city eager to finish the job could help shed light on why the remains are being discovered now and not five years ago. The area where bones are being found is one where officials had raised objections.

The officials said they repeatedly aired their concerns to the agency in charge, the Department of Design and Construction, which was later praised for its speedy, under-budget cleanup of 1.5 million tons of debris.

"The desire was driven by one thing, and that was, 'Get it done,' " said another official who protested, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to publicly discuss the work. "Many a time the issue was raised about how fast it was going and things were being missed."

Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler, who is overseeing the new recovery effort, said a review of such issues would be premature, but that the Fire Department was designated as the lead agency for finding remains and that Department of Design and Construction proceeded only when the Fire Department gave the go-ahead. The Department of Design and Construction declined to comment.

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