Stranded residents try to re-enter homes

Battery Park City crowds seek chances to retrieve valuables

Terrorism Strikes America

September 16, 2001|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK - Standing in a crowd with hundreds of other frustrated and weary residents of Battery Park City yesterday, Chris Haley described exactly where on the dresser she had put her silver-and-enamel ring, the one she has worn every day for 25 years.

She has been waiting for days to get into her apartment building to fetch it, along with her sheet music and the fabric she uses in her costume-making business. "Fifteen minutes and I'll be happy," she said. "The suitcase is already open."

Battery Park City, a complex of about 20 apartment buildings constructed on a landfill a couple of decades ago, stretches a mile and a quarter along the Hudson River - only blocks from the dust and rubble that used to be the World Trade Center. When planes exploded into the towers, approximately 12,000 people fled Battery Park City, and thousands more left nearby neighborhoods, becoming urban refugees.

Even the homeless people who sleep in Battery Park were scattered, spending nights on subway trains, said one homeless couple.

Most residents took almost nothing when they left their apartments because they didn't have time or because they didn't think the crisis would last more than a day or two. Now, they are told, it could be months before they get back into their apartments.

After stints at shelters, many of the displaced are staying with friends and relatives. Those who can afford it are staying in hotels.

Inside their apartments they left pets, wallets, computers and keys. Their grandmothers' jewelry is there, too, along with their insurance policies, their favorite pair of shoes and their anti-depressants.

Many people said they felt ignored and couldn't understand why the city wasn't doing more to help. Judy Sultzer, 71, said she'd never cried so much in her life. "Being rootless at this stage in my life - it's overwhelming," she said.

Jonathan Siskin, a free-lance journalist, had wandered around for six hours the previous day, trying unsuccessfully to get past police barriers. He'd been in a New Jersey shelter and was temporarily sleeping at a friend's in upper Manhattan. "I really don't know where I'm going to go," he said. "We're clearly forgotten."

Few New Yorkers are aware that people make their homes in the financial district, said Tom Goodkind, an accountant. "We tried to keep our community quiet," he said. "Now we need Realtors to step up to the plate and find us places to live. We need Donald Trump."

Evidence of growing irritation is obvious on the community's Web site. Initial entries read, "Pray for our nation," and "Looking for Pat and Artie Goldstein." By yesterday, there was talk of maggots in the refrigerators, rats in the halls, and one bulletin board entry was titled "Lawsuit!"

Since Tuesday, ever-angrier crowds have been gathering, at times pressing up against police barricades, as they try to get home. Distressed pet owners clutching emergency cardboard carriers for cats and birds have shouted and wept and been told to wait.

Erik Miller, whose cat was trapped in his apartment, recognized that sympathies in this tragedy don't lean his way.

On Friday, some pet owners waited at a city pier for nine hours, hoping Park Service officials would escort them inside. If residents faked having a pet just to get in, as others had done, they would be arrested, a ranger announced. Some non-pet owners grumbled about preferential treatment. "It's like if you don't have a damn dog, you're a nonperson," someone said.

Yesterday, at the southern tip of Manhattan, people stood for hours, holding up signs with addresses scrawled on ripped cardboard, waiting to be escorted to their buildings. They would have five minutes to pack whatever they could, explained an exhausted National Guardsman. Susan Gabriel and her husband, Chris, were among the few people there who hadn't left their building Tuesday. Instead, they spent that night in their darkened, 17th-floor apartment, listening to the jackhammers and the radio.

"It was creepy," Susan said, but they weren't scared. "I saw people jumping out of the World Trade Center," her husband said. "After that, nothing seemed more upsetting." They went to a relative in Connecticut.

As the Gabriels waited, the first group given access returned, dragging duffel bags and suitcases. Roommates Kim Cooper and Denise Von Luft are Los Angeles natives who said they were thinking of leaving Manhattan.

"It's a nightmare for me," Cooper said, "to have to live here after seeing what I saw." Cooper was one of thousands caught in the dust cloud when the towers essentially vaporized. "I love New York, but now. ... "

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