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New York Determined to Recover - 2001-09-19

The grim rescue and recovery work continues in New York City, one week after two hijacked commercial jetliners smashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, bringing them down and killing thousands of people.

There is tight security around the area in southern Manhattan where the 110-story towers once stood. Police, backed by National Guard troops, maintain roadblocks around the site and assist the relief workers who come in and out of the disaster zone.

There is not much left to see at the site where the gleaming symbols of American capitalist enterprise once stood. Now there is only a smoldering heap of rubble and grotesquely twisted metal. Heavy equipment is being used to move some of the debris, but firefighters are continuing their efforts to locate possible pockets beneath the rubble where survivors might still cling to life.

Exhausted New York firefighters are being assisted by police and fire personnel from all over the United States. Firefighter Greg Meyer came in from a town in upstate New York. "We are all a big family," he said. "So, no matter where you are from you are just there to help."

Newark, New Jersey firefighter John Caccavale came across the Hudson river to help his brothers here in New York and worked with teams from near and far. "They are from all over," he said. "I saw Los Angeles, Puerto Rico rescue teams, Miami police - all over the country. They are just coming down trying to give their support and as much help as possible."

The burned-out area where the Trade Center towers fell is being called "Ground Zero" by many of the rescue and recovery teams, but many New Yorkers, touched by the self-sacrifice of these men and women call it "Ground Hero." Many of the rescue workers struggle on because they want to find someone they can save. But the more time John Caccavale spends on site, the less optimistic he is about finding survivors. He says that, after one week, it is unlikely that anyone could still be alive beneath the immense pile of smoldering ruins. "I think the lower they get down moving the debris, that is when the reality is going to set in on how many people are actually down there," he added. "I do not think there is much of a chance. Hopefully there is, but I do not think so."

All around the area there are makeshift shrines people have put together. There are candles and religious symbols as well as yellow ribbons and posters showing photos of missing loved ones. Some New Yorkers still refuse to accept the idea that no more survivors will be found. But many others have come to grips with the reality of loss and are struggling to get back to some semblance of normal life.

A few blocks from the disaster site, the New York State Court building is now open and court workers like Vincent Hominic are getting ready for routine court proceedings later this week. "We lost three court officers who work in the building right here," he said. "They went over to help and never came back. So, we are personally touched by this event. But we feel it is important that we all get back to work and to show that, more of a personal thing for all of us, that they are not going to do this to us and we are going to get back and make it better and make it work again."

There is no question that things have slowed in this normally face-paced "city that never sleeps." Some of the old boisterous bravado of New Yorkers seems missing. Many people still seemed stunned. But, as life returns to normal in other parts of the city, the deep wound at the tip of Manhattan where the World Trade Center once towered becomes less a symbol of loss and more a symbol of resolve. There are signs and posters all over the city that express an almost defiant resolve. One of the most common posters shows the twin towers silhouetted against an American flag, with the words "United We Stand."

The proof of that can be seen in the heroic efforts at the disaster site and also at the many places in the city where people are out on the streets, working, shopping, going to shows and restaurants, making it clear that they will not allow this attack on their city to defeat them.

Photos by VOA's Greg Flakus