N.Y. displays spirit, defiance

Attitude: As volunteers continue their work in lower Manhattan, residents react in their inimitable style.

Terrorism Strikes America

New York City

September 14, 2001|By Dan Fesperman, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Sarah Koenig | Dan Fesperman, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Sarah Koenig,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK -- In the aftermath of even the bleakest of events, there is almost always a turning point, some moment of grace where it finally seems possible that this, too, shall pass.

Lower Manhattan's moment seemed to have arrived yesterday afternoon, when word spread at the site of Tuesday's terrorist attack that five city firefighters had just risen from the rubble of the crumbled World Trade Center.

Rescue workers cheered. Some chanted, "USA, USA."

"We're hoping this news is true," said a heartened Jack Ginty, a lieutenant with the city Fire Department. "We're not leaving until we get the last person out. ... These bums that did this to us, we're showing them what we're made of."

Then it all turned to dust.

Firefighters had surfaced from the rubble, but there were only two, and they'd simply slid down a steep pile of wreckage into a "pocket" a few hours earlier. Instead of a portentous spark of hope, there was merely more of what had already become the daily grind -- a sooty, beam-by-beam salvage operation more in keeping with this city's image of doing things the hard and flinty way, with few peaks and many valleys.

"It's been such a meticulous operation," said Peter Gorman, president of the uniformed fire officers' union. "Yesterday, I saw steelworkers cut just one metal beam on both sides, remove it and put it on a flatbed truck, and that's all the truck could take. Now, imagine five square blocks of this."

But New Yorkers have a way of carrying off even the most plodding of tasks with a certain defiance, and that spirit was in evidence, too.

Phrases such as "I love U.S." and "Bomb the Middle East" were scribbled in the dust of car hoods in the area. As volunteer groups of laborers and electricians trudged toward the scene, they sang and chanted marching cadences, some with tiny American flags tucked into their hard hats.

"I'm an American and I feel violated that they attacked us," said Bill Donnigan, 21, a volunteer from Rockland, N.Y. "Everybody's really starting to come together. And New York's not usually like this, you know. We're not that friendly."

Even schoolchildren came equipped with a little attitude as they headed back to their first full day of classes in the city's five boroughs since Monday.

"Some teachers actually wanted to talk to kids about [attack] stuff," Rachel Mohammad, 15, a sophomore, said on her way home from Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, "and some teachers wouldn't say anything about it, just pushed right into work, which kind of annoyed people because some kids actually had family who were hurt there.

"As we got later in the day, it just went right into the work," she added, seeming none too thrilled. "We got homework, we have tests next week."

An easier road suddenly on the horizon?

Fuhggeddaboutit.

Broadway theaters opened their doors last night after going dark for two days -- the first time that had happened other than during a snowstorm since President Kennedy was assassinated. Outside The Producers, one of the toughest tickets to get in the city, people lined up hoping for seats and were rewarded. About 150 people had canceled and the usually sold-out show had empty seats.

Inside, one of the show's producers, Rocco Landesman, stood in the aisle and addressed the house. "Boy, am I glad to see all of you tonight. Each and every one of you is saying, `I am not afraid.'"

Laughter, he assured the audience, was a legitimate response to acts that are unspeakable.

The show was dedicated to those who died in Tuesday's attack, he said.

During intermission, some audience members said they were glad they had gone. "Honestly, it feels pretty good to laugh," said Valerie Schwartz of Connecticut.

Sun staff writer Michael Stroh contributed to this article.

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