Hopes of finding people alive under the mountains of rubble that were the World Trade Center soared briefly Thursday with reports that five firefighters had been pulled from the ruins, but fell back when it seemed the men had only been buried under rubble earlier in the day.
The firefighters were found in a sports utility vehicle near what remained of the twin towers which collapsed on Tuesday.
Two men were able to leave the vehicle unassisted and all five have been transported to the hospital, lifting the spirits of those searching for survivors.
"This is the best news we've had in three days," an unidentified fire official told the local CBS television station.
"We need something like that, we've got men working on that pile for three days and this will just keep them going," he official said.
"It will make our men work harder and harder if they realize people are alive in the basement."
Hours later, however, NY1 television channel reported that the five men had been injured earlier in the day, and had not been buried when the towers came down.
Other television stations continued to carry the original report.
The confusion only underlined the need for caution, repeatedly stressed by New York's city mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has consistently avoided unduly raising hopes.
In a separate report, citing two firefighters, CBS television said a 24-year-old woman was pulled alive from the rubble.
"People were found alive and pulled out of the rubble, including a 24-year-old woman," CBS said, adding that the firefighters were unsure of the number of people found.
As many as 40,000 people may have been in the complex when two hijacked airliners sliced into the 110-story towers, which imploded a little more than an hour after being hit.
Two workers who escaped from the twin towers said others might still be alive in service tunnels below the heaps of wreckage.
But Giuliani sounded a somber note of reality, announcing that 94 bodies had been recovered from the rubble so far, of which only 46 had been identified.
"We're going to sustain a tremendous loss of our best and bravest people," Giuliani told US President George Bush Thursday in a conference call carried live on television.
One witness told a television station that as the five injured firemen were taken to helicopters for evacuation, all those present began to clap and shout "USA, USA," an apparent message that the city, and country, would also survive.
A trade center mechanic who escaped serious injury said: "There are tunnels underground that connect all the five or six buildings below ground. There is a possibility that people are still alive."
Lever was near the ground floor when the soaring north tower crumpled to the ground.
"If you know the building, you'll get from one building to another," said Marlene Cruz, who also worked in the towers.
But Giuliani said another 4,763 people had been reported missing from New York after Tuesday's attacks.
Meanwhile, emergency crews working feverishly to uncover victims of the attacks, dug through an indescribable nightmare in the hopes of rescuing survivors.
Firefighter Manny Piazza, his dark hair covered by a layer of soot and ash, his face drawn from two straight nights of work, sat briefly on a crate trying without success to keep his hands from trembling.
"It's going to be a long time before we finish digging in there -- three months to a year, maybe more," he said. "We didn't go into the building yet, where all the bodies are. We can't get close to it, there is too much rubble on the street."