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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 11:54 GMT
Fear and grieving in suburbia
A Middletown home
Tragedy has forged unity in Middletown
Megan Lane

People from countries across the world were lost in the WTC attack, but the small commuter town of Middletown, New Jersey saw its population decimated on 11 September.

The comfortable dwellings of Middletown, New Jersey, may sprawl over 42 square miles but since the attacks of 11 September, its 70,000 residents have united in grief.

Firefighters recover a body from the WTC rubble
Few of Middletown's grieving have bodies to bury
The town lost at least 35 inhabitants when the twin towers collapsed, family men and women in their 30s and 40s who balanced successful careers in the bustling metropolis over the water with leisurely weekends in the heartland of suburbia.

Even those not directly affected know someone lost in the rubble or someone who narrowly escaped the devastation.

The local Roman Catholic chapel is still holding memorial services for those who died. Instead of a casket - for there is usually no body - mourners sit before a wreath adorned with perhaps a photo, and perhaps a few words about the deceased.

And everywhere, there are the stars and stripes. If the flag business is doing a brisk trade in New York City - itself festooned with the red, white and blue - then it is booming in New Jersey.


If they would let me, I would be on the next ship to Afghanistan

Burt Camlin, retired police officer
Almost every house in Middletown has the stars and stripes flapping on the balcony or pinned to the front door. Almost every car passes with the flag fluttering from the radio aerial. One family has even tied red, white and blue bunting around an old tree in their garden.

Now far more than an anthem, God Bless America has become a comfort, a rallying call. One woman says her parish starts and finishes each mass with the song.

A sign for the times

"You want to know how I feel?" says another woman, pointing to a 'United we stand, divided we fall' placard on a neighbour's lawn. "Every time I pass that sign, that's how I feel."

At a local school, eighth graders rehearse for an upcoming tribute concert. On the programme is the Marvin Gaye classic, What's Going On. It seems particularly resonant in these tense times.

Grieving relatives of WTC victims
Suburban New Jersey has been hit hard
Although only a few children in the school lost family members, most knew someone in New York City on that fateful day:

"My basketball coach died."

"My mom's friend worked for Cantor Fitzgerald - she lost all her colleagues."

"My friend's dad got out - he was on the 86th floor."

"My brother was across the street. He jumped on the last ferry out and saw the towers collapse."

"My dad's construction job was right next to it. He was on the phone to my mom and had to get off real quick because he saw the plane hit the second building."

The WTC wreckage
Middletown lost 35 citizens on 11 September
All say their families are now much more security conscious, what with the threat of further attacks and anthrax scares. The three contaminated letters sent to prominent government and media offices were postmarked New Jersey, and traces of the bacteria have been found in sorting offices in the state.

Some of the pupils say their parents have now bought them mobile phones in case of emergencies. Others say their parents wear rubber gloves to sort through the mail and the trick-or-treat Halloween candy collected last week.

Those at the county's Islamic school are also nervous - but for a different reason. Attendance has dropped by at least a third since the attacks, as parents fear they and their children may be targeted for abuse.

Gaping hole in the skyline

From the nearby coast, the residents of Middletown once strained to glimpse the towers of New York City push towards the sky some 10 miles away. Since the collapse of the 110-storey World Trade Center, the altered view is a painful reminder of the attacks.

Burt Camlin, a 76-year-old former police officer, is moved to tears as he talks of his son-in-law's narrow miss.

New York's downtown skyline
New York's skyline has been brutally changed
"He worked in the World Trade Center and his boss had called the night before to say he didn't need to come in that morning - he could work from home. Had he been on his way to work, he would have been on a train directly under it."

Mr Camlin wants to see those responsible brought to justice - and soon.

"If they would let me, I would be on the next ship to Afghanistan. I really feel retaliation is key, especially with the threat of bio-terrorism we now live with."

But most of all, he and others in Middletown are still in mourning.

"It just hurts to see what has happened here."

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