South of 134th Street and east of Santa Fe Avenue, the wreckage began to appear.
It was subtle at first — grass and mud spattered on streets, houses and cars. Then, a downed power line or a fallen tree. And always the flow of people through the streets.
Soon it got worse.
Near Penn Lane, the full picture of the devastation came into sharp focus.
A neighborhood was now a debris field. Suburbia was now a replica of the old black-and-white photos of war-torn European cities during World War II. Once-cheerful houses and shiny cars were heaps of twisted scrap and matchsticks.
No birds sang. There was only the ever-present howl of sirens and revving of bulldozer and backhoe engines.
Some people sat on mounds of tangled destruction that had been their homes, weeping.
And yet there was life among the chaos. First responders, National Guard troops and citizens busied themselves, picking up the pieces and searching for survivors.
One older man wearing blue coveralls stood atop a six-foot pile of wood and steel, once his home, looking for what he could salvage. He looked like a scarecrow guarding a field sowed with salt.
“Do you need any help?” one person asked.
The man looked up, not saying a word, then returned to sifting.
A bald, stocky man nearby told the newcomer that he had already asked if the man needed help and had gotten the same response.
The bald man said he had been helping search the rubble of the nearby Plaza Towers Elementary School. When rescuers started finding bodies, they told the civilians to leave.
Day 2: In the morning light, crews were still digging, still searching.
The death toll, which had fluctuated wildly on the first day, had gone down to 24, according to the State Medical Examiner’s Office.