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9/11 responders and survivors at higher risk during coronavirus pandemic

Investigations

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — They survived the worst terrorist attack on American soil, but now, 9/11 heroes face a new threat – the coronavirus. 8 On Your Side is digging into why survivors are at a greater risk of getting sick.

“I witnessed the second plane go into the building,” said Robert Buscemi.

Buscemi witnessed one of America’s darkest days. The New York City court officer saw the 2001 Sept. 11 terror attacks from across the river in Brooklyn.

In the days that followed, he dug through the debris at Ground Zero. As he looked for survivors, Buscemi breathed in the toxins for months.

“I had one lung collapse,” he said.

Years later, Buscemi developed lung disease and needed a double lung transplant.

He came to Tampa and never left.

“They had new lungs for me, within like four months…and thank God, because it was just in time,” he said.

His life was saved once. But as Florida sets a coronavirus death record, the 64-year-old is hunkering down at his home in Pinellas County.

“I can’t really fight off disease that well, so I have to be extra careful,” said Buscemi.

“I’m heartbroken that the 9/11 community is going through something again,” said attorney Sara Director.

Director is a partner at Barasch & McGarry. The law firm represents thousands of 9/11 first responders and survivors, including 1,500 in Florida.

Director says they’ve lost at least 10 clients to coronavirus, but they’re waiting for medical examiners to finish their investigations. There could be at least 10 additional virus victims.

“We’re waiting for the death certificates to come in to see if they’re going to list it as COVID or their underlying 9/11 cancers,” said Director.

As cases spike and many refuse to wear a mask, Director and others in the 9/11 community fear what’s to come.

“They are being put at risk by this virus, that some of them have no choice but to go to work,” she said.

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