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NYC Out of the ashes Friday, 21 December, 2001, 11:52 GMT
Christmas in New York
NY skyline
NY's Christmas skyline
Peter Gould
In the final part of our special coverage from New York, Peter Gould looks at how the city is going to deal with Christmas. You can also watch our film of the highlights of the week's webcasts, see new pictures of the attack and read the story of one survivor, BBC journalist Stephen Evans.

For many Americans, this Christmas will be a time of heightened emotions.

Thousands of families were bereaved by the attacks on September 11. Many more were deeply affected by the traumatic events of that day.

Their pain and loss is all the more intense at a time of the year when thoughts turn naturally to home and loved ones.

But while this may be a difficult time for many Americans, the nation seems more determined than ever to celebrate the traditions of the festive season.

In towns and cities across the United States, homes are ablaze with Christmas lights.

Traders selling Christmas trees are doing brisk business. The stores are packed with people buying presents.

Church numbers rising

People are also taking comfort from their faith.

Since September 11, many churches have reported a significant increase in the numbers attending services.

At a Catholic church in upstate New York, the parish priest told me the joy of the season was helping people to realise there was still good in the world.

But this is still a time when many are grieving, and nowhere has the sense of loss been felt more acutely than in New York.

Christmas tree in NY
A Christmas tree stands proud amongst US flags

This is a city still struggling to accept the reality of what happened in a few short minutes on a bright autumn morning.

A priest working at Ground Zero, amid the ruins of the World Trade Center, told me the city still has an open wound in its side.

NY visitors returning

In the weeks after the attacks, many people stayed away from New York as the country and the world became nervous about travelling by air.

Yet in recent days, the city seems to have enjoyed a sudden surge of visitors. Listening to the accents, many have come from Britain, no doubt encouraged by rock bottom airfares.

A few New Yorkers show their disapproval when they see tourists aiming their cameras at Ground Zero.

But for the most part, the desire of people to visit the site and share the city's grief is understood.

At fire stations across Manhattan, fire fighters welcome callers and patiently answer questions about the friends they lost.

On the walls are family snapshots and lists of memorial services for their "brothers". For those who survived, life goes on.

Shrine near Ground Zero
A Christmas shrine remembering those killed on Sept 11th

Walking past one station, I noticed that all the fire trucks were parked out on the street. Inside, the fire fighters were laying out tables and chairs.

"We're having our children's Christmas party today," explained one of the fire fighters. The station lost 15 men, many of them fathers.

To spend a few days in New York is to experience the pain of a city where emotions are still raw.

The altered skyline is a daily reminder to New Yorkers of how terrorists robbed the city of its most visible and potent symbols, the Twin Towers.

But it is the human cost that really haunts this city: three thousand lost lives, and three thousand grieving families.

And you don't need to have suffered a personal loss to be grieving.

One construction worker told me he witnessed the destruction of the World Trade Center from a neighbouring building.


He was close enough to Ground Zero to be sprayed with aviation fuel from one of the crashing airliners.

As fire swept through the towers, he watched helplessly from the 32nd floor of his own building as office workers a short distance away jumped to their deaths.

He saw a man and a woman fall together, hand in hand. He wonders about them. Were they colleagues, friends...maybe husband and wife?

Or perhaps they were strangers, clinging together in terror during their last moments.

He is a tough New Yorker, but he is struggling to hold back the tears. He says he dreams about it almost every night, unable to erase the images from his mind.

An office worker told me how he stumbled out of one of the towers to be greeted by a scene that looked like a nuclear war. The sky was black with smoke, and bodies in flames were falling to the ground.

He escaped just five minutes before the building collapsed. Not surprisingly, he is none too happy about returning to work in a downtown skyscraper.

Counsellors are encouraging survivors to talk about their feelings. They believe thousands will need help to work their way through the pain, and in some cases the guilt at having lived while so many died.

So for many Americans, even those who did not lose a friend or family member, this will be a Christmas unlike any other in living memory.

Old certainties about life in the USA have been shaken, and people need the reassurance of a season of goodwill.

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

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Links to more NYC Out of the ashes stories

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