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U.S.: New Yorkers Try To Put Disaster Behind Them

  • Nikola Krastev

Hordes of curious spectators have been flocking to streets near the World Trade Center disaster site since the reopening of major thoroughfares in lower Manhattan. Many New Yorkers disapprove of such curiosity and say it is not appropriate to make a spectacle out of human tragedy. In spite of the current heightened anxiety over recent anthrax scares, New York City is calm five weeks after the 11 September attacks. Many city residents credit Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as being a major force in restoring the sense of normalcy to the city.

New York, 16 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The intersection between West Broadway and Chambers streets in lower Manhattan offers perhaps the closest unrestricted view of the World Trade Center disaster site. It is also a spot that attracts hundreds and possibly thousands of onlookers each day.

Despite a large sign reading "No Photographs," tourists with cameras and video recorders are trying to catch a better view of the looming cranes, the charred carcass of 4 World Financial Center and the occasional wisp of smoke that rises in the air after emergency crews uncover pockets of still-smoldering debris. The ruins of the Twin Towers are not visible from here, but a gust of wind sometimes brings an acrid, metallic smell.

Many New Yorkers are appalled by such curiosity and look on in dismay as tourists photograph each other with the World Trade Center wreckage in the background.

Vanessa Villanueva, an 18-year-old university student, says she thinks people should have more respect for those who perished in the devastating attacks:

"I wasn't here the first few days after the attack, but I mean it's just so weird -- there are [tourists] here, and the sad part is that the people are here because of what happened [on 11 September]. It doesn't really help. I think that if anything, people should have respect for what's going on -- if you don't have business here, just don't be here. Because if you're here just to see the sights and want to be part of the action then it's not really fair to everyone else."

A nearby photography lab is doing a brisk business selling photographs of the disaster. The day of the attacks, a photographer from the lab was able to rush out onto the streets and document the catastrophe in pictures. Postcard-sized images of the Twin Towers crumbling to the ground are selling for $2 apiece.

Jane Sullivan, a 40-year-old public-relations specialist from San Francisco, is one of the people buying the pictures. Despite her purchase, she says she feels ambiguous about people trying to cash on the tragedy: "Well, I am concerned about all the vendors that we're seeing, wondering if people are taking advantage of this to make money. Looking at the prices, I can say that it doesn't look like they are really trying to rip people off, which is nice to see. But I think I'd feel more comfortable with it if the money [was] going to one of the charitable organizations -- that's what I'd really like to see."

But the doubts people have about the behavior of tourists and some residents do not extend to the city's government. New Yorkers are generous in their praise of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, saying he has been a constant and reassuring presence since the day of the attacks.

Ross McDermott, a 26-year-old insurance agent from Manhattan, says the mayor's presence makes him feel safe in the city.

"I think clearly the administration led by Giuliani has done a phenomenal job. He's been visible, he's made people feel more comfortable even when everyone was obviously very scared. He's made me feel more comfortable. He's been visible; he hasn't been hiding, which makes you feel better."

New York Governor George Pataki and Mayor Giuliani recently announced an ambitious plan, asking the federal government to provide $54 billion worth of incentives, tax breaks, and subsidies to rebuild the state economy, redevelop lower Manhattan, and help businesses hit hard by the World Trade Center attack.

Many of these businesses -- particularly the family-owned ethnic eateries and small shops in the financial district -- are finding it hard to qualify for financial assistance to stay afloat during these tumultuous times.

Thirty-six-year-old Patricia Popovich, a Manhattan-based investigator, says she's satisfied with the way federal and city authorities are directing the rebuilding efforts: "I love him [Giuliani]. I loved him before this and I love him even more now. I think he's doing a wonderful job and I think President [George W.] Bush is doing a wonderful job. I'm very happy with everything that's going on right now in the way they are handling this."

Giuliani's latest challenge is responding to the anthrax scares that have made city headlines -- most recently in the case of a seven-month-old baby of an employee of ABC News, who was diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax after spending time at network's offices.

Giuliani says there's no need to panic about anthrax. But many residents have gone to local hospitals seeking vaccinations for the disease. Drug stores have been emptied of the antibiotic Cipro, which has been effective in treating the more dangerous inhaled form of anthrax.

Ashish Khana, a 25-year-old computer support specialist, says he's worried about the threat of bio-terrorism: "Well, I'm just a little [nervous], not as nervous [as some people] but somewhat nervous that something's going to happen soon, [especially] with the anthrax case reported up in midtown today [at ABC News]. So I'm definitely nervous commuting around and being in major hubs. I work in the stock exchange so I'm obviously worried but the security is definitely much greater now than it ever was before. You can't even get deliveries without police escorting the deliveries up, so I feel much safer in that aspect, but I'm definitely more worried about [bioterrorism] right now."

At a news conference last night at the ABC offices, Giuliani urged city residents not to overreact to the latest developments, which follow a case of anthrax infection at the New York offices of NBC News.

The mayor said: "This is a noncontagious, very treatable disease. There are situations that people face every day in their lives that are significantly more dangerous than this."

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