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  "WTC Probe Ills Bared", by Paul H.B. Shin (Daily News Staff Writer), Daily News, 7 March 2002

An inquiry into exactly what caused the twin towers to collapse after they were hit by hijacked jetliners may have been undermined by the hasty recycling of steel wreckage that could hold vital clues, experts told Congress yesterday.

About 80% of the structural steel from the World Trade Center was scrapped without being examined by even one fire expert, mostly because investigators did not have the authority to preserve the wreckage as evidence, the experts said.

WTC widows Elizabeth Jordan and Sally Regenhard appear at the hearings. "The lack of significant amounts of steel for examination will make it difficult, if not impossible, to make a definitive statement as to the specific cause and chronology of the collapse," said Glenn Corbett, a fire science expert from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan who testified before a House Science Committee inquiry into the collapse and the ensuing investigation.

"The current World Trade Center disaster inquiry has exposed a gaping hole in the way that we investigate disasters," he said.

PA Wanted a Waiver

The lead investigator in the case, Gene Corley of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said the Port Authority refused to hand over blueprints for the twin towers - crucial for evaluating the wreckage - until he signed a waiver saying his team would not use the plans in a lawsuit against the agency.

"This is the first time I have signed something like that," Corley said, setting off a wave of angry comments from members of Congress and outcries from an audience made up mostly of relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Corley leads a team of engineering experts empaneled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but his team lacks the power to subpoena witnesses or order the preservation of evidence.

"Where does the buck stop on this investigation?" asked Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn).

Weiner's query was followed by a round of conflicting testimony by officials from FEMA and other federal agencies about exactly who is in charge of the inquiry.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-Utica), chairman of the committee, said the confusion points to a need to define which agency will take the lead in investigating future collapses.

"No one is sure what powers the federal government can exercise. No one is sure of the scope of the investigation," he said. "That has to be fixed right away."

Boehlert's committee is expected to recommend the creation of a group like the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates plane and railroad crashes.

The group, tentatively dubbed the National Construction Safety Board, would likely be a branch of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is one of the groups probing the Trade Center collapse.

Victims' relatives said those measures would be a step in the right direction.

"We want at least the same level of investigation as a plane crash," said Sally Regenhard, whose son, Christian, 28, a probationary firefighter, died in the collapse.

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