Shocked New Yorkers regroup

Residents near site of attack praise rescuers and pitch in to help

Sifting rubble, supplying food

Terrorism Strikes America

New York City

September 13, 2001|By Michael Stroh, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Todd Richissin | Michael Stroh, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Fire engines - some in neat lines, some parked haphazardly, all of them covered in ash and debris - sat as though frozen in time. One was sliced in half by a steel beam. The windows of nearly all of them were blasted out.

Found around the gray trucks yesterday: an abandoned bagel cart, a shoe, a wallet, an accountant's list of things to do, a child's toy.

Above, a sickly, yellowish smoke was billowing.

And, just down the road, people were applauding.

With such devastation all around the collapsed World Trade Center - with bodies and body parts scattered in rubble - it was not realistic to expect the shock that began a day earlier to wear off so soon.

But for New Yorkers - including rescue workers who have lost hundreds of their own - yesterday was not too early to begin gathering themselves and to urge each other on.

Along West Street, the main road emergency vehicles took to the World Trade Center, hundreds of people gathered early yesterday morning to clap, wave American flags and hold signs: "New York Heros." "Be Safe." "Keep the Faith.

And simply: "Thank you."

"These guys worked all night, they're tired, they haven't eaten, let's show them we support them and appreciate what they're doing," said Kim Dempster, a filmmaker who lives in Manhattan's West Village. "I don't know medicine, I don't know anything about construction. This is the only thing I can think of to let them know we're here for them."

Those who did know construction, or who simply had the brawn, lined up to help firefighters and other rescue workers carefully sift through the rubble left by the collapse of the two World Trade Center towers.

At an emergency service base in the nearby neighborhood of Chelsea, scores of volunteers and emergency workers were bused to the southern tip of Manhattan to help.

They saw the 110-story buildings reduced to three-story piles of rubble and twisted steel beams. They had watched television since the planes struck, but many of them said they were still unprepared for the sight.

"I was horrified. ... It was like an atom bomb went off," said James Friedman, who owns an air-conditioning business in Manhattan and volunteered to help move metal beams.

They used chain saws to cut through girders, dogs to find bodies, motion detectors in prayerful hopes of finding anybody alive.

The air around them, with ash still swirling, looked as though a snow shower had struck, though it was far less the blizzard than on Tuesday.

Water from fire hoses was trained on the rubble and on other burning buildings. The runoff has thickened much of the ash to mud.

Along with the fire engines and some ambulances, cars and taxis are covered in soot, some of them little more than burned-out shells.

The death toll will be staggering. The odds of finding more missing people alive dwindle by the hour, despite rescue workers' efforts.

Toby VanKeuren is like a lot of those who knew people who worked in the towers: He's waiting in his Long Island home for the right phone call, although he is pretty sure it will not come.

James Kelly, his friend since junior high school, is still missing in the World Trade Center wreckage. He worked on the 105th floor of the north tower.

"Our hopes and prayers were that maybe he was in a hospital somewhere and had lost a leg," VanKeuren said. "We were actually praying for that."

He will hold out hope for his friend, he said, for "Jimmy," a father of four. Susan George, too, was hoping for word from friends. She has lived for 22 years in Battery Park City, an apartment complex next to the towers. All that time she wondered what would happen if they ever came down.

She found out. Banned from her apartment as are hundreds, perhaps thousands of her neighbors, she returned yesterday to check on friends. After the first building collapsed Tuesday, she grabbed her passport, birth certificate, son's birth certificate and jewelry her father had given her and stuffed everything into a small designer backpack.

"There's my life in there," she said but added she wasn't worried about survival.

"You can't stop a New Yorker," she said. "They always get their way."

Others felt the same way. If the attack weakened the heart of the city, the pulse of New York never completely went away, and it seems to be growing stronger with each hour.

"We love our city, we're not going to be beaten by this and I think you can really feel that," said James Davis, a tour guide who lives in Chinatown. "You can break our building, but you can't break our spirits."

As if to prove that, Kim Ho, owner of a mom-and-pop corner grocery six blocks from the collapsed towers, said he would stay open to help out the rescue workers and anyone else who needed to pick up a few things.

Never mind that he didn't have electricity. He had candles. Never mind that his cash register was down. Rescue workers got goods free. For everybody else, he said, pointing to his head, he could figure out their bill up here.

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