Search and Rescue team member Sarah Atlas is one subject in a Ground Zero story that mentioned “molten steel”.
Even before the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell, Sarah Atlas and her canine partner, Anna, a black-faced German shepherd, were deployed by New Jersey’s Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue. By the end of the day on September 11, they were at Ground Zero, where they stayed for ten days in a fruitless search for survivors.
“The [NYFD] people who called us had been killed,” Atlas considered as she surveyed the tons and acres of wreckage. “Nobody’s going to be alive.” Fires burned and molten steel flowed in the pile of ruins still settling beneath her feet...
You’ll notice Atlas isn’t quoted as making the reference to molten steel, so did the author get it from somewhere else? We’ve not yet been able to contact Atlas to ask her personally, but did find the author of the piece, Peter Nichols, who still works at the University. And so we fired off a message to ask, could he remember where the “molten steel” quote came from? Was it from Atlas, an unnamed interviewee, another source? How much reliance could we place on it?
Here’s the reply:
I am the editor of the newsletter you asked about, which is now Penn Arts & Sciences Magazine. I also wrote the story about Sarah Atlas. As you say, the story was written 4 years ago, so my memory is not going to be all that helpful. At that time, I spoke with a number of people besides Atlas about their experience, so I'm not sure where the detail about molten steel came from. It could have even come from a secondary source. I would say that it is not a detail I made up--I don't do that--but I can't recall from whom I heard it. Given that the possible sources for the detail were veterinarians, psychologists, dog handlers or others--and not engineers--I don't think their eyewitness accounts really qualify as expert testimony.
Hope this helps. Peter Nichols
Not a clear answer here, then, but that’s only to be expected after this time. The original story stands as a quote, but remains unsourced, with no indication that it’s anything more than a retelling of the contractors “molten steel” stories with which we’re already familiar.