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U.S.: New Yorkers Express Shock, Disappointment, Determination

  • Nikola Krastev

More than 4,700 people are feared dead in the 11 September terrorist attack on the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center. As rescue and salvage efforts continue, uncertainty and grief continue to plague those New Yorkers still waiting for word of friends and family members missing since the devastating attack. Security alerts and false alarms have added to the continuing sense of unease. RFE/RL correspondent Nikola Krastev talked with city residents about the tragedy.

New York, 14 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- As desperate rescue efforts continue amid the wreckage of the twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center, residents are struggling to come to terms with the magnitude of their loss.

The lower Manhattan skyline is a disturbing reminder of twin attacks by hijacked passenger jets and the collapse of the 110-story towers -- once the highest structures in the city. Now, in their place, only an eerie gap remains, leaving one of the world's most famous cityscapes forever altered.

But our correspondent, speaking yesterday with city commuters during an unusually calm rush hour, found many New Yorkers expressing optimism and avoiding despair or self-pity.

Michael Bianco, an engineer and city resident, said he had yet to hear news of many of his friends who worked in the World Trade Center. But he said it was important to continue living in New York, despite whatever difficulties may lie ahead:

"[It's difficult] from a personal point of view. I mean, [I know] 40 missing persons from the World Trade Center explosion. I don't know where they are or anything else [about them]. But I also feel that working in New York or living in New York is [going to be] more difficult, but we'll get through it."

Many New Yorkers continued to express disbelief that such a coordinated and devastating attack could be mounted against the United States. Svetlana Nazarova, a Russian-born Internet systems analyst who has lived in New York for the past 10 years, said she was appalled by the apparent vulnerability of the U.S. to such terrorist attacks:

"I was shocked that America was totally unprepared for terrorist attacks, keeping in mind that [America] is obviously the prime target [of such attacks]. Systems of prevention were totally inadequate."

Jose Diaz, a taxi driver originally from the Dominican Republic, said he had decided to take several days off from work to recover from the shock of the 11 September attack:

"I never thought it [could] happen in this city, in this country -- that something like that [could] happen in this country. With so much security, so much intelligence, so much everything -- technology, everything. I [never thought] this would happen in this country, especially in the city of New York."

The lower third of Manhattan continues to be sealed off, as work continues to clear debris and rescue any remaining survivors. With hopes dwindling of finding anyone still alive, authorities have released preliminary figures indicating that at least 5,000 people are likely to have died in the attacks, which include the collision of a hijacked jet into the Pentagon and the crash of a fourth hijacked jet in Pennsylvania.

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said 4,763 people are listed as missing from the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. In the rubble of the towers, devastated relatives have maintained a constant vigil, many carrying photographs of their missing loved ones.

Transportation systems are gradually returning to normal in the city. But attempts to maintain calm are not always easy. Yesterday afternoon, sirens were set off at Penn Station, a major rail thoroughfare in midtown Manhattan. The alarm came in response to a bomb threat in a neighboring building that houses the New York programming center of the CNN broadcast network. People rushed from the train station and out of nearby buildings as police urged pedestrians to clear the area. Several minutes of anxiety passed before it was announced that the threat was a false alarm.

Sam Suniyako, a student who was born in Ghana, said the continuing ordeal may serve as a lesson for Americans:

"We thought nobody can touch anybody in America. Now we're finding out that's not true. Maybe out of a bad situation [some] good things [will] happen, and we are going to learn a lesson from it."

President George W. Bush is expected to arrive in New York today for a first-hand look at the disaster site.

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