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As it grows dark, so does the mood in Manhattan

[Photo: AP]
Adolfo Rodriguez holds a photo of his father, Alexis Leduc, who worked in the towers and is missing.

©Los Angeles Times

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 13, 2001

With streets vacant and rescuers idle, "Everybody is sad."

NEW YORK -- Soldiers leaned in doorways where drinkers should have been. Taxis were nowhere to be found. Apples, oranges and grapes sat untouched on fruit stands, Pompeii-like, ash-covered and frozen in time.

The night after disaster struck, an eerie blue mood crept over Manhattan as people stayed home watching TV news, calling friends and keeping off the streets.

The city that never sleeps was silent.

"Everybody is sad," taxi driver Gabriel Adam said.

There wasn't all that much to do, at least not yet. Rescuers recovered only a few people from the terrorist attacks that flattened the World Trade Center on Tuesday. Most of them were dead. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani closed the island to inbound traffic and told people not to go to work Wednesday.

So it became a night to absorb the enormity of the destruction and loss of life, estimated in the thousands.

And many said they felt helpless.

Eric Chehab, an orthopedic resident, volunteered at a triage center across from where the 110-story World Trade Center buildings used to stand. Rescue personnel now call the site "the pile."

[Times Photo: John Pendygraft]
"It's hard to talk about it without crying," says Cari Gonzalez, looking at the disaster site.
Chehab had come to splint arms and close cuts. Instead, he waited around staring at an incongruous mix of office paper, blackened metal, dust and shoes sprinkled in the street.

"We all wanted to help so badly," said Chehab, who described a scene of anxious doctors manning empty stretchers. "But nobody ever came."

As dusk turned to night, a slice of yellow moon rose behind the now gap-toothed skyline of lower Manhattan. The sky was clear and a faint breeze carried the scent of smoke.

The Canal Street area looked like a war zone. Army trucks blockaded streets, along with police officers and soldiers. Red lights flashed all around like a thousand fires.

A group of exhausted firefighters, who asked not to be identified, emerged from the still-smoking rubble.

"We just unburied our lieutenant and took him to the morgue," one of them said, shaking his head.

Many stores near the blast site looked like people had just been there. Coffee cups in a Starbucks were left half full. Ties, cell phones and umbrellas were strewn on the sidewalk.

In Greenwich Village, usually a place of noisy cafes and great people-watching, most businesses were closed Tuesday night.

"This is the first time I can see the pavement on Sixth Avenue from here," said a club promoter who called himself Karl Jr.

Around 1 a.m. Wednesday, Jason Bartley stopped at one of the few open shops to buy a bouquet of pink and orange chrysanthemums. They were for his mother, the 28-year-old accountant said.

Uptown, in pricey neighborhoods along Central Park, pale blue TV light glowed in apartment windows. Streets and avenues were deserted. Many taxi drivers live in Queens and Brooklyn and couldn't get to Manhattan because Giuliani had closed all tunnels and bridges.

As dawn arrived, rescue efforts continued, aided by a battery of heavy equipment -- huge lights, blowtorches, cranes, bulldozers and dozens of dump trucks.

Zach Enterlin lives about 40 blocks away. All night he heard trucks rumbling past his apartment. Once, he got up, just to look out the window.

"I used to be able to see those buildings," he said. "Now I see smoke."

The poor air quality around the fallen buildings of the World Trade Center complex poses health concerns for New Yorkers, public health experts warned Wednesday.

With concerns of dangerously high asbestos content in the air, rescue teams and Manhattan residents were being urged to wear masks or respirators if they had to be outside or, better yet, to stay inside and keep doors and windows tightly shut.

Officials also warned that many more people are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Those who personally witnessed the airplanes crashing into the towers, people falling out of windows and the collapse of the buildings are more likely to develop symptoms including anxiety, depression and sleep problems.

But because the horrific images were displayed repeatedly on television and in the media, people elsewhere are also at risk, said Dr. Susan Scrimshaw, dean of the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health.

On Wednesday, the National Institute of Mental Health put out an advisory about post-traumatic stress disorder to all state and local health departments, as well as to the nation's schools of public health.

"It's hard enough for adults, but we've got a lot of children who are just reeling from this. Everyone to different degrees, depending on how they were affected by this, is experiencing this," Scrimshaw said.

In New York the more immediate physical threat is posed by the dust, fumes and toxic chemicals in the clouds of material that enveloped thousands of people near the trade center, said Dr. Alan Leff, a lung specialist at the University of Chicago.

Especially vulnerable to short-term or long-term damage are senior citizens and people who have asthma, emphysema or other respiratory conditions, he said, adding that people who were able to flee quickly and limited their exposure to the dust cloud are not likely to suffer respiratory problems.

Health experts said there was little risk of infections such as typhoid spreading from the thousands of bodies thought buried in the rubble.

"There's always a risk of some kind of airborne contamination, but these risks tend to be pretty low for this type of situation," said Dennis Gault, a spokesman for the Chicago Fire Department.

Richard Lee, a senior industrial hygienist at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said concerns over a polluted water supply were also minimal.

"Anytime there are breaks in the sewer line, there is a possibility that it could back up into the regular water supply," he said, but "there are back flow preventers to deal with that problem."

-- Information from the Chicago Tribune was used in this report.

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