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U.S.: New York Seeks Normalcy One Week After Attacks

  • Nikola Krastev

One week after two hijacked passenger jets brought down Manhattan's distinctive twin towers on 11 September, the remains of the World Trade Center continued to smolder. Stockbrokers yesterday headed into the nearby Wall Street area for a second day of tumultuous trading. For most New Yorkers -- indeed, for most Americans -- things will never be the same. As casualty estimates from the catastrophe mount -- there are now more than 5,400 people missing and presumed dead -- New Yorkers continue to try to cope with the human cost. RFE/RL correspondent Nikola Krastev talked with city residents over the past several days about how their lives have changed -- and whether life in New York will ever return to normal.

New York, 19 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Throughout New York City, there are black-and-white photographs or color Polaroid snapshots staring at passers-by from street corners, utility poles, billboards erected at hospitals, and entrances of residential buildings.

They are the faces of the thousands of people -- financial experts, clerical workers, police and firefighters -- missing since the 11 September terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The plight of missing loved ones and the immense scale of the tragedy continue to provoke outpourings of emotion among New Yorkers.

Large gatherings in respect for the victims have been held in Union Square, a central point in lower Manhattan. At one of these gatherings, Julie Fench, who describes herself as a Quaker (a pacifist religious group) and a baker, tells RFE/RL that she hopes any retaliatory response to the terrorist strikes will not lead to the loss of more innocent lives:

"I know that terrorism itself is a very complicated thing. I mean, it's terrifying they have cells in this country and Germany, so that's a very complex problem. But I don't want any innocent men and children, civilians in [suspected] countries killed, to [be] punish[ed]."

Many of those interviewed are worried that the U.S. government's anticipated retaliatory action could further complicate the situation. At the same time, given the magnitude of the damage to their city, the vast majority of New Yorkers appear to support a swift and decisive response against the terrorists, wherever they might be hiding.

New Yorkers have also come to regard their police, firefighters and other rescue workers as heroes. During a special Mass on Sunday for the more than 350 such victims of the attacks, Roman Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan spoke of this affection:

"If anyone has any doubt about the love of this city for our firefighters and police officers, I don't understand. They're the best. They're the bravest. They're the finest. And we're the luckiest."

There are no more blood-donor lines in front of hospitals. The anticipated wave of injured victims never materialized, and the expectation that no more survivors will be found is beginning to take hold.

The city's public transportation authority late last week restored regular service on subway lines in lower Manhattan that pass in the vicinity of the Trade Center disaster. Wall Street station is relatively clean, but wind brings from the nearby "ground zero" site a lingering smell of burned insulation, melted plastic and metal.

National Guard members in full combat gear standing on Wall Street corners are just one more reminder of the exceptional circumstances under which trade on the major New York financial markets -- the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the NASDAQ -- was resumed on 17 September after almost a week of inactivity.

The financial engine of the world is striving for the appearance of normalcy. The people who make the place function are determined to quickly restore Wall Street efficiency. Michael Stoppard, a computer-support specialist at the New York Stock Exchange, tells RFE/RL that his team has been working around the clock since 12 September to bring the computer systems back to life:

"Everybody's done a really good job and kept their heads and been calm, and everything is moving as well as it could be expected. The markets are up. Systems are up after a week of hard work, and we should be fine."

Other workers who spoke with our correspondent in the Wall Street area say that people seem emotionally distracted and lack the same energy as before the terrorist attacks.

Before the stock market opened on 17 September, the New York Stock Exchange observed two minutes of silence in memory of those killed by the terrorist hijackers. After a Marine officer sang "God Bless America," members of the New York City Police and Fire departments rang the opening bell:

"Ladies and gentleman, our heroes will now open the marketplace."

Kevin Castell, an attorney at a Wall Street firm, tells RFE/RL that people on Wall Street are eager for normalcy but that the impact of the attacks is simply too powerful:

"I must say, when I came here this morning, maybe I overestimated how good things would be. I felt we would be pretty much back to normal. We're obviously not back to normal by any stretch. People are distracted. People are trying to concentrate on their work. But the reality of life is they can't concentrate 100 percent. I don't know whether that's going to be a month or two months."

Much of downtown Manhattan has reopened with the help of a new service, a ferry carrying passengers across the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The Empire State Building, dark for days after the bombings, was again lighted, its distinctive spire topped by lights in red, white, and blue.

The landmark building is once again New York's tallest.

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