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U.S.: Reporter Describes Aftermath Of New York's Day Of Terror

  • Nikola Krastev

As rescue workers continues to search for survivors in the rubble of the World Trade Towers, the rest of New York is a surreal place. The city famous for its energy and fast pace is eerily empty of traffic and activity. But there are also numerous signs of solidarity and cooperation.

New York, 13 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A day after twin plane attacks destroyed the World Trade Towers, New York City and its residents were slowly trying to regain their senses. Many, however, still couldn't grasp the magnitude of the catastrophe.

Working through the first hectic and sleepless night after the 11 September attack, emergency teams by yesterday were finally able to recover several survivors from the rubble. But the threat of further building collapse seriously slowed rescue efforts, and city officials said they expected grim casualty figures.

A heavy security presence was established along Manhattan's 14th Street -- which spans the island from east to west -- barring all but residents or special crews from venturing into the southern part of the city. The southernmost tip of that area is home to the headquarters of the New York Stock Exchange, major corporations and brokerage firms.

A caravan of heavy trucks and huge bulldozers could be seen heading toward the smoldering disaster area. The acrid smell of burning rubber had grown fainter, following a day in which every breeze brought pungent fumes even far north of the disaster zone.

At eight o'clock in the morning, a large line of blood donors had formed outside Saint Vincent's hospital on 7th Avenue and 13th Street. About 250 people, mostly young, stood in silence in a long line stretching down the street from the hospital. The average wait for a blood donation was said to be six hours. From nearby bakeries and cafes, waiters came every hour with free baskets of fresh croissants, bagels and coffee for the donors.

The rest of the city was unusually quiet. With all bridges and tunnels to Manhattan closed and with non-essential traffic restricted, there was little car movement on the streets. Most stores were open, but few people were seen shopping.

New York's two senators -- Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton -- visited the disaster site for the first time. Schumer said he was "sickened" by the view flying over the damaged city. New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said he expected the death toll to be in the thousands.

"Although [World Trade Center] building number two had a chance to clear out, a lot of people probably cleared out of building number two, building number one had some time to clear out, but there were areas of it that were affected. The best estimate that we can make, relying on the Port Authority [the operator of the WTC] and just everyone else that has experience with this is that there will be a few thousand people left in each building."

The governor of New York state, George Pataki, who had an office in the destroyed buildings, spoke encouragingly of the will of New Yorkers to rebound from the tragedy.

"This is a tragic episode in American history, but New Yorkers will get through this. America will get through this. We will not be intimidated. We will not lose our freedom."

Few New Yorkers are likely to forget the 11 September events. Minutes after it was announced that a plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, our correspondent rushed to an uptown subway station to head downtown. Around midtown, the subway slowed, then came to a complete stop. A bulky middle-aged man nervously began punching his pager. Then, staring intensely at the little green screen, he exclaimed twice: "This requires immediate retaliation!"

Finally, after a series of stops and starts, the train reached the 42nd Street/Times Square station.

Above ground, the bright, sunny sky over midtown Manhattan posed a sharp contrast to the billowing, enormous cloud of thick smoke that was growing slowly in the distance. Onlookers were struck by the sheer magnitude of the cloud.

Groups of passers-by gathered on the Times Square sidewalk opposite the Dow Jones news billboard, which flashed headlines like: "Terrorist attack on the WTC. Hijacked planes. Powerful explosions. Massive loss of life."

From midtown to downtown the only reliable way of transportation was on foot. Our correspondent was able to reach a point approximately 500 meters from the disaster site. The pavement was covered with white ash, pieces of paper and splinters of wood, apparently from furniture.

The ash, our correspondent reported, had a distinctive odor, similar to the acrid, burned-rubber smell of the smoke still billowing from the still burning debris of the towers.