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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 18:36 GMT
New Yorkers lose their normality again
Workers at the UN watch TV screens for news
New Yorkers faced a familiar sense of tension as details of the crash of American Airlines flight 587 filtered through, writes Jane Black

A current of fear shot through New York City as news of an American Airlines plane crash spread through the city.

Just as they did just two months ago, New Yorkers huddled around office television sets and lingered in restaurant and delicatessens to listen to the radio for the latest news about the crash of an Airbus A-300 just miles from JFK International Airport in Queens.

Frantic phone calls, e-mails and internet instant messages flew between friends and relatives throughout the morning - though most admitted that they were sure no-one they knew was anywhere near the area when the plane exploded and crashed to the ground in flames.

"It was like an eerie echo of September 11," said Brian Ragan, an employee of Dennis Interactive, a unit of UK-based publisher of Maxim.

"We were waiting for any word that this is the only event underway - or better that it is not a terrorist attack. It's sad to be praying that this was an accident."

Sense of normality

The crash came just as many New Yorkers were finally achieving the much-desired sense of normality.

Restaurants and bars were once again beginning to fill to capacity. And many New Yorkers were making a concerted effort to go to Broadway shows or museums.

The fear of anthrax attacks had also started to wane. New security and mail procedures had convinced many New Yorkers that they could return to their everyday lives - albeit with caution.

On the streets outside Pennsylvania Station, New York's main rail station, crowds were thin and many seemed hesitant to stop and linger.

"I'm very depressed. I just want all of this to end," said Ailda Valerio, who hails from the Dominican Republic and lives in the Bronx. Valerio worries that the crash will further hurt tourism and cause even more job losses.

Brendan Heneghan, who narrowly escaped from his office in the World Trade Center on 11 September, says hearing of the Queens crash "raised the hairs" on the back of his neck.


Was it an accident or was it terrorism?

Brendan Heneghan
"It brings back all the memories and triggers the same set of emotions as the attacks two months ago. Just when you think no tragedy will surprise you, you find you can still be shocked."

He says before the crash New York was slowly getting back to its normal "cranky" self.

"Over the weekend the bars had begun to fill up again and the Christmas decorations have started to go. People had even started to calm down about the prospect of finding anthrax in their mail. It's too early to say if this crash will throw things out of kilter again."

That will depend on the answer to "one big question", says Mr Heneghan: "Was it an accident or was it terrorism?"

"If it weren't for 11 September I'd not have been panicked by a crash like this, Rockaway would have felt a very long way from Manhattan."

Setback

Brad Kemser, an employee at Wireless Warehouse, a mobile phone retailer, said: "We still don't know what happened - if it's a terrorist attack."

But most felt that whether or not the crash was the result of a terrorist attack, the tragedy was a setback for already skittish New Yorkers.

"Fear has a way of creeping back rather quickly into our still-fractured sense of security," Mr Ragan added.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"This is a community that thought it had endured the worst"
Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman
giving a press briefing
Robert Hewson, Aviation Industry analyst
"Nobody actually trains for an aircraft engine falling off"

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