Md. team prepares to take down bombed building PURGING A REMINDER OF TRAGEDY

THE BALTIMORE SUN

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The work site Doug Loizeaux confronts is unlike any other.

A playground area blanketed by shards of glass. A broken picture frame that once sat on someone's desk. A massive mound of what used to be ceilings and walls painted a blazing orange -- the spot marking the area in which two bodies lie waiting to be recovered.

For Mr. Loizeaux and his Baltimore County-based demolition team, hired to take down the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the tragedy that struck Oklahoma City is at times overwhelming.

"I keep wanting to believe this is fantasy," said Mr. Loizeaux, vice president of Controlled Demolition Inc., a 35-year-old firm known for pioneering the use of explosives in structural demolitions. "I still can't believe the magnitude of destruction here."

"People just don't need to see this anymore. It's a monument to terrorism," he said.

Under close scrutiny as people across the country anticipate the moment when the building is demolished, Controlled Demolition employees have been working day and night since May 5, when they were first called to examine the building.

Barring bad weather, the building -- the site of the deadliest terrorist attack to ever take place on American soil -- will fall in just eight seconds sometime before 10 a.m. tomorrow.

That is what draws hundreds of people to the site every day and night, rain or shine, to take one last look and to remember the 167 men, women and children who lost their lives. Or maybe it's because in the minds of many, the same thing could happen in their hometown.

One family from Florida said that they had to stop by to see it during their visit with relatives. One man flew in from Denver. A woman and her boyfriend drove more than 200 miles from Dallas to visit only for the day.

With flowers and other tokens of affection, people crowd the steel fencing that surrounds the building. Some take pictures. Others come only to pay their respects.

It can be a heart-breaking scene in which some visitors openly weep.

Building stirs passions

For many people in Oklahoma, that is precisely the reason why it is time for the building to go.

"We're tired of seeing it on TV. We're tired of hearing it on the radio and we're tired of reading about it in our newspapers," said Paul Howell, who lost his 27-year-old daughter Karen in the building. His story was written about in The Sun during the rescue operation.

"When it's over, we won't see cops everywhere," said Mr. Howell, who has visited the site about a dozen times. "We won't see fences for two blocks around. . . . I've grieved. I've suffered. I've cried like everybody else, and I've gone to all the funerals that I can.

"I think I'll feel a lot of relief when it's finally down and we can get back to life. I think it will do a heck of a lot of good for all of us in Oklahoma City."

Donna Kirkendall, who works at Bethany Medical Center where some victims were taken, is one of the few who wants the building to remain.

"I don't want them to blow up the building," said Ms. Kirkendall, who was visiting the building for the third time yesterday. "I just want them to leave it there. I think people need to continue to see it and realize what happened so that they won't forget."

But others say there is no chance of that happening.

"It's not something that you can forget," said Chris J. Webster, a music teacher at Capitol Hills High School in downtown Oklahoma City. Four of 25 seniors in one of his classes lost a relative to the bombing.

"It's kind of like leaving a wrecked car on the side of the road where someone was killed," Mr. Webster said. "You wouldn't think of doing something like that. . . . The sooner it's gone, the easier it will be.

The safest way to go

Even the lawyer for Timothy J. McVeigh, one of the men charged in the bombing, agreed with prosecutors not to hold up the demolition any longer than necessary. Defense attorney Stephen Jones was granted a short delay of the demolition, originally scheduled for Saturday, to examine and collect evidence. Mr. Jones and a group of 16 people, including an explosives expert and architect, finished their examination Saturday.

While there is some concern that people are not ready to hear another blast, most are confident that demolition is the safest and fastest way to remove the building.

"Gosh, I wish they could use a hammer and knock it down a piece at a time," said the Rev. Don Alexander, pastor of the First Christian Church, where relatives of the missing had gathered each day to await word from the medical examiner. "But that is not realistic. We don't want to hear another blast, but in the real world, this is the only way to do it."

Efficiency and safety were the two key points in choosing explosive demolition, said Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin. She also said that residents will have prior notice of the exact time of demolition.

"We put a lot of consideration and discussion into the fact that some people are still rattled," Ms. Fallin said. "We realize that people's nerves are still jittery, but then we have to consider, too, that the building itself is a hazard and it has to come down.

"I think the people of Oklahoma are ready to have the building demolished because it is a part of our healing process and closure process."

The demolition team

So while Oklahoma City prepares for the explosion, the task of bringing the building down falls to Doug Loizeaux and his team of experts from Phoenix, Md.

CDI is no stranger to Oklahoma. In 1977, they demolished a 28-story building about eight blocks from the Murrah Building.

CDI is also familiar with taking down buildings struck by disaster.

In 1985, CDI crews helped 400 workers from Mexico City construction firms take down 26 earthquake-damaged structures to allow workers to safely recover bodies. The firm also demolished a 17-story reinforced concrete building in Saudi Arabia in 1981, which had buried 30 workers after the building partially collapsed.

It is that expertise that made CDI the first company the General Services Administration called after the Oklahoma City bombing. CDI is known for the techniques the company developed to implode a building by using the smallest amount of explosives possible. The explosives are placed strategically to weaken a building to a point where it collapses into its own footprint.

But this job is different.

"There's an emotional aspect to this job that wasn't present at other jobs we've done," said Jim Santoro, the CDI project manager who arrived with Mr. Loizeaux on May 5. "Because of the emotional involvement, it's not pleasant. It's the constant reminders that people were killed and injured in there, like the playground in the back of the building, that's enough to tear anyone apart."

CDI has dealt with death at job sites, structurally unsound buildings and intense media coverage. But never have they dealt with all three aspects combined into one site as they have at the Murrah Building.

"I've seen the death and destruction brought on by an earthquake," said Mr. Loizeaux, who supervised the Mexico City site. "The loss of life when you work any job of an emergency situation is difficult, but you can almost accept it with a natural disaster."

"This was no natural disaster," Mr. Loizeaux said. "This was a sheer act of evil. That's what makes this job harder than the others."

A tough job

CDI and Midwest Wrecking Co. crews begin work at 5 a.m. and end at 11 p.m., sometimes later.

For more than two weeks, workers have been removing debris to lessen the load on certain floors, careful not to remove too much for fear of further weakening unsound columns. Holes have been drilled into columns on six of the nine floors for placement of explosive charges. Columns have been wrapped with steel mesh fencing and a bullet-proof material to prevent debris from flying out.

Explosives were loaded yesterday by Mr. Loizeaux and his brother and CDI president, J. Mark Loizeaux. By tonight, the brothers expect to have the building loaded with about 200 to 300 pounds of explosives.

"It's been hard, but we try not to think about what happened here," Doug Loizeaux said. "The toughest part when I got here was when they held a memorial for the people who were killed and their families were brought on site to mourn. It really sunk in."

It's a job being scrutinized as carefully as possible by hundreds of people standing two blocks away; a job that will be seen across the country tomorrow when a second explosion puts the building to rest.

"The bringing down of the building may lay to rest the building itself, but it will not lay to rest the trauma and loss that has been experienced by the people of Oklahoma," said Mr. Alexander, pastor of First Christian Church. "Physical things and places provide symbolic reference point to our lives, but the essence of life is in human relationships and what happened at those reference points.

"The lives lost, that is the significance of those reference points. The rest is just mortar and brick."

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