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NYC Out of the ashes Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 16:43 GMT
Part one: The human cost
Peter Gould

Three months on from terror and tragedy, BBC News Online returns to New York to ask what kind of city it has become. Peter Gould reports from Warwick in upstate New York, a town where many families were affected by the Twin Towers attacks.

Mental health experts are calling it the "ripple effect" from Ground Zero.

In the wake of such an immense disaster, feelings of shock and grief are expected to have a long-term impact on many New Yorkers.

The American Red Cross has been discussing how to deal with an upsurge of mental health problems expected to follow the attacks on the World Trade Center.


Here in New York, there are few people who were not touched by loss, who did not not know someone who lost their life

It is thought that as many as 400,000 people will eventually need counselling to help them cope with problems ranging from anxiety and depression to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Those at risk include firefighters and police officers involved in the rescue operation, the office workers who ran for their lives, and those who watched helplessly from surrounding buildings.

Estimated loss

According to the latest estimates, about three thousand people lost their lives when the Twin Towers collapsed.

The final death toll will not be as high as once feared, because some of those missing, initially feared dead, have since turned up alive and well.

But the figure still represents a scale of human tragedy that is difficult to comprehend.

"In the rest of the country, life is moving on, but New York still has a tremendous wound in its side," says Father Robert Deming, at St Paul's Chapel.

"There are still bodies to be found. There are still hot spots here at Ground Zero, and when the wind is blowing, people across the city can still smell burning."

Fr Deming at memorial site
Fr Deming:"NY still has a tremendous wound in its side"

The church is just yards from the ruins of the World Trade Center, and the sidewalk out front has become an open-air shrine to those who died.

Candles, photographs, poems...there are countless expressions of love and support. New York is still a city in mourning.

In America, people often talk of the need to bring "closure" for those who have suffered human loss. Father Deming prefers another description of the process now underway.

"Closure is the wrong word to use," he says, as we watch a stream of people stopping at the makeshift memorial.

"What comes is healing. People need to grieve, they need to feel angry. Sometimes they just need to be allowed to feel sheer despair, and we have to make time for that."

Three thousand victims means three thousand bereaved families, learning to live with the continuing reality of the events of September 11.

Then there are all the friends and colleagues of those who died in the ruins of the World Trade Center.

Here in New York, few people do not know someone who lost their life, or a family that was in some way touched by the tragedy.


Perhaps the most heartbreaking duty has fallen to the pipe band of New York's fire department. Almost every day, sometimes several times a day, its bagpipers have been called on to play at services for the 343 firemen who died when the towers collapsed.

The last three months has seen an almost endless succession of memorial services and funerals.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking duty has fallen to the pipe band of New York's fire department. Its bagpipers are being called on to play at services for the 343 firefighters who died when the towers collapsed.

The haunting sound of "Amazing Grace" has echoed through churches all around New York.

The police and fire departments are urging New Yorkers to attend funeral and memorial services, to show their support.

Many bereaved families still do not have a body to bury, adding to the sense of loss. Given the nature of the destruction, many victims will probably never be recovered.

Some families have been reluctant to apply for a death certificate, perhaps trying to postpone the moment when they have to accept the finality of their loss.

Valuing a life

Since the disaster, hundreds of millions of dollars has poured into relief funds - particularly those aimed at helping the families of police officers, firefighters and other members of the emergency services.

It has led to resentment among the families of some "civilian" victims at the World Trade Center, who may receive much less. They ask: Are some victims to be valued more than others?

"We are heartbroken about the inequities," says the widow of one financial executive.


Are some victims to be valued more than others?

"Nobody got up to the floors where my husband was. Don't tell me there weren't people up there trying to do heroic things."

Even without such distressing arguments, the emotional trauma that followed September 11 has left many in need of counselling.

Some of those involved in the support operation in Oklahoma City, after the bombing of the Federal Building in 1995, have come to New York to help.

"Disasters create an abrupt change in reality," says the American Red Cross.

"Following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, for thousands and thousands of people, reality now includes the loss of loved ones, spouses, significant others, children, other relatives, friends and neighbours.

"For the millions of people around the world connected to this tragedy only by media coverage, it means the loss of a measure of security and safety and invulnerability."

Common reactions

The Red Cross says that common reactions include shock and numbness, anger and suspicion of others, and what has become known as "survivor guilt".

People who escaped from the World Trade Center may harbour an irrational feeling that they could have done more to help others.

Those who lost partners may dwell on arguments they had in the hours just before the attacks, worrying that the victim may have died not realising how much they were loved.

The Red Cross urges people not to turn away from those who may be blamed for the acts of the terrorists, just because they happen to share their nationality or religion.

"Their grief and pain is as great as yours, and their feelings of guilt much greater," it says.

"At the very least, do not condemn the many for the acts of the few."

Links to more NYC Out of the ashes stories are at the foot of the page.


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