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Sunday, 16 September, 2001, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Finding that blitz spirit
Dust coats the area around the twin towers
The devastation has brought residents together
Jonathan Duffy

The World Trade Center was synonymous with business, but thousands of people lived in its extensive shadow. The devastation has brought neighbours closer together.

In a community centre just a few blocks from where the twin towers once stood, a new kind of order has emerged from the mayhem.

We were all spared for a reason - to reaffirm our lives as a community

Paul Glass
Residents from the surrounding streets have gathered to talk over the events of last Tuesday.

Some speak from the heart, voicing their innermost emotions, others focus on more practical matters - when do the schools go back, how to wash when there is no hot water, where to make a phone call.

And one or two openly reflect on how the horror that was visited on this inner-city neighbourhood has actually brought people closer.

Paul Glass
Paul Glass: "God truly spared my life"
Paul Glass, who has lived in the area for 15 years and worked at the World Trade Center, sums up the feelings of many when he rises to speak.

"God truly spared my life, and I think for all of us standing around in this room we were all spared for a reason - that reason being that we can reaffirm our lives as a community."

Before the meeting closes, everyone stands up, joins hands and sings several mournful chorus of Amen.

Together in adversity

This is definitely not your run-of-the-mill New York experience. The denizens of this city are renowned the world over for their curtness and lack of overt charm.

Residents line the streets to thank rescue workers
Residents line the streets to thank rescue workers
But things have changed over the past few days. Just as President Bush views the terror attack as tantamount to war, a blitz spirit has surfaced on the streets of lower Manhattan.

In Tribeca, the district just north of where the famous towers once stood, everyone now has the same concerns.

In the three 40-storey tower blocks that make up Independent Plaza North, residents have been without gas, hot water and telephone lines since Tuesday. One block has no electricity.

Children have been off school, elderly people have been unable to get food and medicine while the shops were closed and everyone is worried about the huge pall of smoke that hangs close by.

Asbestos is a major worry, especially since every street and balcony was caked in a layer of dust after the towers collapsed.

With their own eyes

Local stores have begun to reopen, and when the owner of the nearby drugstore said he wasn't fit enough to go back to work, residents took charge.

Residents leave their homes
Many of those living nearby have left the area
"He even let them near the cash till," quips one woman to the residents' meeting.

The company that owns the tower blocks has donated an empty apartment for counselling sessions that have been organised by a local psychotherapist.

Lots of residents witnessed at first hand the horror of last Tuesday.

John Scott feels local people were initially overlooked as all the focus went on those who worked in the towers.

John Scott
John Scott: "Will our homes collapse too?"
"We were worried about whether the collapse had destabilised our own apartment blocks and they would fall down."

Worries like this have contributed to the flight of many residents away from the area, to shelters or to stay with family or friends.

City council member Kathryn Freed estimated the number of homeless at about 30,000. Her bleary eyes and worn expression are a result of the 18-hour days she is working to address the concerns of locals.

"I've just been dealing with the practicalities but there is so much to do sometimes I just think it's impossible."

Desolate backyard

While residents try to get back to some kind of normality, reminders of the suffering are all around - from the constant parade of emergency workers up and down the street to the hum of generators that power floodlights on every street corner.

Diane Lapson
Diane Lapson: "Those towers were our signposts"
And even when that has all gone, things will never be the same, says Diane Lapson, who has lived in Tribeca since 1976.

"As a New Yorker those towers were our signposts. We tell people if you want to come to the house just head for the World Trade Center. It's the New York skyline, it's our backyard.

"Seeing it down is quite surreal. Sometimes I just don't believe my eyes."

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