9/11/01: Residents pull together in aftermath

Julie McDermott, center, walks with other victims as Julie McDermott, center, walks with other victims as they make their way through debris near the World Trade Center in Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. Earlier in the day terrorists crashed two airliners into the buildings, bringing down the twin 110-story towers. Photo Credit: AP

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The pain of those many who were buried in rubble, or suffocated by smoke, or who jumped from 80 stories high, was felt by grieving New Yorkers from the foot of Manhattan to Flushing yesterday.

Angelina Payne was driving to visit her mother dying of cancer at Lenox Hill Hospital, when on the Long Island City side of the Queensboro Bridge she saw the second plane slam into the World Trade Center and then explode.

Because police began turning back traffic, she and her daughters went back to their home in Flushing and watched the day's tragedies unfold on television.

As Payne tried without luck to call her mother, she all but crumbled inside as she learned of the innocent people killed or injured in the worst terror attack ever carried out on American soil.

Sometimes it just seemed too much.

"My mother is dying and we can't even see her and I'm here thinking about all these people who died," she said, breaking momentarily into tears as she spoke on the telephone. "It's just horrible."

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Her husband, Carlton Payne, yesterday morning helped evacuate the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, where he is the safety engineer for the new court building currently under construction. He and others thought the federal facility was a likely target.

To avoid being stranded by the closure of mass transit service, he rented a car and drove back home.

Like many, he wants someone to pay for the death and destruction he believes was inflicted on his brother and sister New Yorkers.

"My opinion is that there's no other choice but to retaliate," he said. "Someone has got to pay for this."

Barbara Vazquez, 18, who was getting ready to go to Boston this weekend to begin her freshman year at Northeastern University, felt she was suddenly catapulted into the harsh reality of man's inhumanity to man.

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"It's just unbelievable," said the Glendale resident. "You hear about terrorism acts and it just doesn't seem to hit until it hits you in your own home state."

Beyond lower Manhattan where the disaster unfolded, noise and confusion and soot were replaced by a sort of silent sorrow.

Commercial strips in the boroughs beyond Manhattan remained desolate.

Yesterday morning, in Jackson Heights, Queens, many store owners said they planned to close - not just because of slow sales but out of respect. Those that stayed open, mostly restaurants, served just a handful of customers.

"The city's closed," said Harvey Long, 39, who lives in Jamaica and works at Federal Express. "I just can't believe today."

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In Manhattan, A Daylong Exodus

They streamed uptown in Manhattan, in a daylong version of the biblical Exodus, fleeing the devastation and horror at the World Trade Center.

Some had damp T-shirts dangling from their necks, makeshift protection against the drifting white soot. Many lined up at public phones trying to call relatives or friends.

Jie Cheng, a Pace University student at the campus near the World Trade Center, walked for more than two hours until she finally reached 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue.

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As she pondered how long it would take her to make the trip to home farther uptown, she recalled the horrible sight of the morning, a scene that likely will remain forever fixed in her mind.

She spoke of how, right after the attacks, she and fellow Pace students had been told to leave the school building.

Then, "When I looked up, I saw two people falling," she recalled. "They looked like paper at first. Then I saw the arms."

Along with Cheng, waves of others trekked north, weighted down by fatigue and sadness and confusion.

Charles Parente from Oyster Bay, an analyst for the American Stock Exchange, said he had exited the subway on his way to work when he saw debris flying through the air. With everyone around him screaming, he began picking little sooty particles out of his hair. He then saw the Trade Center collapse, and he ran for his life.

Elsewhere uptown, two women wearing sandals knocked on the window of a closed Modell's sporting goods store, pleading for sneakers. "Please, we have to walk home to Queens. Please give us some sneakers," one said.

Police closed off streets surrounding the United Nations, including First Avenue, creating bottlenecks and bumper-to-bumper traffic for miles. Cars clogged the city streets, mixed with the thousands of people fleeing.

Jenn Burner, a Wall Street events coordinator who was at her job at 39 Broadway when the attack occurred, found a way around the traffic jams.

She walked to her home and got her in-line skates so that she could zoom to Bellevue Hospital Center, where she wanted to find a friend she believed had been injured in the disaster.

"A good friend of mine was on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center," she said. "I'm looking for him. Wish me luck."

She had her wits about her, but there was anger seething beneath the surface.

"This is World War III," she said, and then made a not-too-veiled threat to the man believed by some to have masterminded the attacks. "[Osama] bin Laden," she intoned, "Watch out!"

- Kathy Larkin, Margaret Ramirez and Ron Howell

 

Some See Bridges As Paths to Safety

The charred remnants of the morning's disaster fell like light snow as a stream of thousands nervously walked and ran across the Brooklyn Bridge to escape the disarray of lower Manhattan yesterday.

The twin metallic towers that distinguished the world's most famous skyline had collapsed and a large billow of smoke drifted eastward, engulfing the southern portion of the city. From the span of the bridge, crowds fled, turning sometimes to stare at the spectacle over their shoulders.

Women in high heels struggled to walk. Men in business suits shed their ties. And young people stopped to carry the elderly as emergency vehicles occasionally split the crowd. Many ran, fearful for their lives.

Selma Henry, 29, a senior planning assistant at American Express Financial Advisors, said she ran toward the Brooklyn Bridge after the first blast. "A few minutes later, I heard another collision," she said. "I kept running."

Maria Crespo felt the same fear as she crossed the Willis Avenue Bridge.

"The city was under attack and the safest place seems to be at home," she said, as she walked from 34th Street and 10th Avenue, headed for her home in Morris Park.

The scene was the same at other bridges as tens of thousands of pedestrians moved across the spans after much of the city's transportation system halted after the World Trade Center attack.

Commuters devised alternate routes that lengthened their travel, in some cases by several hours. And thousands of other people jammed onto buses and ferries.

Authorities allowed pedestrians and motorists to exit the bridges, but only official vehicles were allowed to enter Manhattan as of late yesterday. Crowds snaked along the Triboro, Queensboro, Willis Avenue and other bridges.

On the Queensboro Bridge, military jets flew over and some in the crowd below ducked, fearing another attack.

Christine Schaetzle walked among them on the Queensboro. She had gone into Union Square for a doctor's appointment early in the morning and understood the gravity of the day when she left and found smoke in the air.

"I never believed in the possibility of war before but I could understand why people would want to go to war," said Schaetzle, 26, of Astoria, after she exited on the Queens side of the bridge. "It feels like some bad made-for-TV movie."

At the base of the Manhattan Bridge, police prevented people from crossing into Manhattan. Tempers flared. Several people shouted they had children in Manhattan, or that they wanted simply to return home.

"Manhattan is a war zone," shouted one officer, meaning it literally, not figuratively. "Please try to understand for the sake of those people who did not survive today."

Even before the collapse, New Yorkers who had been on their way to work abandoned their cars and the subway to stream up the FDR Drive and across the Brooklyn Bridge on foot. Some of the last few motorists who made it onto the bridge before it was closed to traffic stopped on the bridge to pick up straggling pedestrians.

As the first tower tumbled, people ran, some screamed, and many paused to help strangers scale the pedestrian walkway's 9-foot iron fence.

- Errol A. Cockfield Jr.

Queens Residents Do Best To Help One Another

Bernard Cazis, a Mexican immigrant who lives in Jackson Heights, gazed at the Twin Towers collapsing on the Manhattan skyline and, with tears in his eyes, found it difficult to speak.

"I was driving here and I saw it go down," said Cazis, a construction worker.

With two symbols of modern-day Americana - the Arthur Ashe Tennis Stadium and Shea Stadium - looming to their left, Cazis and other drivers on the Whitestone Expressway abandoned cars and ignored police loudspeakers ordering traffic to keep moving along the highway.

As the second of two burning World Trade Center towers crumbled into dust at 10:29 a.m., the highway scene appeared to be straight out of the hackneyed horror movies. Horns blew, tires screeched, loudspeakers blared and car radios blared news of the disaster.

The repercussions were felt across the city.

While drivers on the Whitestone Expressway pulled over to watch the collapse, Queens Borough President Claire Shulman toured hospitals across the borough as workers gathered around neighborhood stores to listen to English and

Spanish radio. Police asked drivers leaving Manhattan for Queens to take extra passengers, while people taking cabs also took extra customers.

"The people of New York are very strong, and because of some hardships they've faced, they can stand up to just about anything," said Shulman, who saw Elmhurst Hospital Center turn away people after more than 900 stopped by to give blood.

Passenger in tow, cab driver Faysal Snoussi of Astoria drove past hundreds of pedestrians spilling out of the Queensboro Bridge. Snoussi's customer gave him permission to pick up Andrea Chiriano, 26, who was trying to get home to Bensonhurst.

Chiriano told him that police in midtown Manhattan had stopped cars, asking drivers how many people could fit in their cars. A stranger had given Chiriano a ride through the Queens Midtown Tunnel to Queens, where she shared Snoussi's cab with another woman to Brooklyn.

In Jackson Heights, people unable to use their cell phones stood in lines to use pay phones on Roosevelt Avenue.

Jackson Heights resident Dan Miner saw the smoke coming out of both towers as he exited the Queens Plaza subway stop to walk to his office at the Long Island City Business Development Corp.

Miner said he doesn't know the fate of one colleague's husband, who had worked on the 104th floor of one tower. "Pearl Harbor was a military target in a time of war," Miner said. "These were civilians."

Handing out campaign literature for City Council candidate James Gennaro outside the polling place at St. Nicholas of Tolentine School, Queens political activists Rory Lancman and John Gennaro, James' brother, saw gray clouds on an otherwise clear day.

At Lancman's seventh-floor apartment, "we went out on the balcony and were watching what was happening when the tower collapsed," Lancman said. "When the building collapsed, it looked like an atomic bomb had gone off in Manhattan. It was a huge mushroom cloud."

- Katia Hetter and Kathleen Kerr

 

Schools Take Measures For Safety of Students

Thousands of frantic parents concerned about their children's safety during the crisis took them out of schools across the city while classes were still in session yesterday.

Lenore Chiriboga, who works in Community School District 32 in Brooklyn, left work to drive to Intermediate School 119 in Middle Village to take home her son and her niece, both 11, and then return to her job in the superintendent's office.

"On my drive there, every school had tons of parents," Chiriboga said.

"A lot of people work in Manhattan who are from your neighborhood and you have kids in school who are panic-stricken," she said. "Their parents work there. Even though it looks like it's over there, it's everywhere. Everybody has got a tie to Manhattan."

Chiriboga said her husband works three blocks from the World Trade Center.

At Public School 109 in Queens Village, Wilbert Bryant, a driver with Triboro Coach bus lines, said he had come to pick up his daughter after he heard the news on the radio.

Scanning the crowd of students entering the cafeteria for lunch at 10:30 a.m., he said, "I'm taking her out. She'll be safer at home."

Three elementary and three high schools in the area of the explosions that demolished the Twin Towers were evacuated. Students at PS 89, PS 234, and PS 150 walked, escorted by school personnel, to PS 41 and PS 3 farther north.

Leadership and Public Service; Economics and Science; and Murray Bergtraum High Schools also were evacuated.

"It's a very fluid situation. We're well on top of it though," said Catie Marshall, a Board of Education spokeswoman. "Our concern is for all our children, but right now the immediate area of danger is downtown, and that is why we're moving children uptown. We're concentrating on keeping the children safe."

Chancellor Harold Levy placed all schools on "an increased state of alert, "saying they would remain open yesterday "although at a heightened state of security." Students were kept indoors.

Levy also decided that the city schools would be closed today.

In advisories updating parents and principals on the Board of Education's Internet Web site, the chancellor said there were "numerous bomb threats throughout the system." But referring to the attack on the World Trade Center, he said, "There is no indication of any such actions aimed at the schools."

The chancellor asked principals to keep schools open late yesterday under shelter conditions in the event many parents could not reach schools by closing time. He also instructed principals to stay in their schools and to ask their staff to stay as "late as necessary to ensure that children remain safe."

Levy also ordered after-school programs canceled and said staff should be redeployed from district offices to schools to help provide security.

One school in each district was designated where children would be taken if their parents or guardians did not meet their school bus. The schools are listed on the Web site www.nycenet.edu.

Officials at PS 3, where some of the students evacuated were taken, feared some parents were killed or injured in the disaster when no one showed up by 4:20 p.m. to claim a dozen children from PS 234.

Ginger Lau, 10, and her sister, Sage, 8, who attend PS 234 and were evacuated to PS 41, saw "the plane crash into the big building. We ran inside the school," Ginger said. "I was really scared. I was worried the building was gonna fall on our school."

"I don't know why anyone would do that to us," Sage said. "What did we ever do to them?"

Crisis intervention teams from the Board of Education will be in school districts to assist guidance counselors in counseling children whose parents died or were injured in the disaster. Marshall urged parents to discuss the day's events with their children to reassure them about safety.

On a similar mission, Msgr. Guy Puglisi, superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn, visited students who live in Brooklyn neighborhoods from which some people saw the planes attack the buildings.

St. John's University closed all of its campuses in Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island and Long Island, and they were to remain closed today, said Jody Fisher, a spokesman. Overnight arrangements were made for students and employees who felt they could not get home safely.

- Merle English

 

Religious Leaders Try To Bring Some Comfort

From Manhattan to Montauk, members of the clergy reached out to offer spiritual solace and words of comfort as the area searched for answers to yesterday's attacks.

The area's faithful filed into churches, mosques and synagogues, murmuring prayers of hope for missing loved ones and those who are presumed dead.

Hundreds who fled Tower One paused in knee-deep rubble, then began praying and weeping when a second explosion rocked the second tower of the World Trade Center.

In lower Manhattan, clergy moved gingerly among the smoldering rubble and the wounded to deliver last rites. Several Manhattan churches flung open their doors and beckoned those who stumbled, dazed and covered in soot and dust, inside.

"Refreshments, food, rest rooms. Anyone need, they're inside!" bellowed a man outside the Mariners Temple Baptist Church on Henry Street, gesturing to the passing throngs, many of them holding gas masks to their faces.

Many organizations planned vigils through the week, and religious leaders urged their congregations to donate blood, food and clothing to those in need. The hardest part, though, was explaining yesterday's events to congregants. Many religious leaders were reeling from the day's tragedies themselves.

"This is one of the vilest days of villainy in modern history," said Rabbi Ronald Androphy, president of the Long Island Board of Rabbis. "We've witnessed the most heinous and despicable acts of human depravity since the Holocaust."

Rabbi Marc Gellman, president of the New York Board of Rabbis, added that religious communities across the country must now speak out against the hatred displayed during yesterday's attacks.

Cardinal Edward Egan, like many other religious leaders, spent the day administering the sacraments and visiting the wounded. During the 5:30 Mass, he addressed the day's events.

"We call for justice," he said. "We insist that those who have committed this crime be called before the courts of civilized people. We must not, however, allow our pursuit of justice to descend into sentiments of hate and retaliation."

The Rev. Al Sharpton urged people not to rush to conclusions.

"We should not jump to the blame game," Sharpton said. "We don't know who is at fault."

Al-Haaj Ghazi Khankan, president of the National Council on Islamic Relations, said yesterday's tragedy is shared by Americans of all spiritual walks.

"We condemn the atrocious acts of terrorism and we send our condolences to the victims' families," Khankan said. "We pray God will save those who have been injured."

Khankan also expressed concern that members of the media and other religious groups not rush to point the finger of blame at the Muslim community.

"Anyone who speculates is fishing in murky water," he said. "We remember what happened after the Oklahoma City bombing, so many Muslims were attacked." - Halimah Abdullah

 

Staff Writers Bobby Cuza, Susan Harrigan, Erik Holm, Dan Janison, S. Mitra Kalita, Hugo Kugiya, Bill Murphy, Bryan Virasami, Mary Voboril and Kathryn Wellin contributed to these stories.

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