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Friday, 14 September, 2001, 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK
United in grief at St Paul's
St Paul's Cathedral
The atmosphere was emotional at St Paul's Cathedral
By BBC News Online's Margaret Ryan

For the thousands of people who gathered outside St Paul's Cathedral for a special service on Friday, this was a time of togetherness in the face of a tragedy so close, yet so far away.

Today has given me a chance to be with other Americans and part of a community

Geoffrey Smith
Many of the US citizens in Britain at the time of Tuesday's terror strikes, said they felt distanced from family and countrymen grieving on home shores.

But in the past three days they had been overwhelmed by the support that Britain - which believes hundreds of its own citizens have died in the attacks - had offered them.

As London fell silent at 1100BST, the only sound that could be heard was the bells of St Paul's ringing.

An estimated crowd of 20,000 people lined the streets to be part of what was truly an international outpouring of grief.

Looking for peace

The mood was sombre and one of quiet reflection as the crowd paused to remember their loved ones amid the thousands of victims of the American terror attacks.

Paula Kirby and Geoffrey Smith
Americans Paula Kirby and Geoffrey Smith were moved by the service
Inside, the cathedral was packed with 2,600 people, of which most were ordinary members of the public who took their place in the service alongside the Queen, the prime minister and other leading figures.

For the thousands outside, the service was relayed by a public address system.

New Yorker Jamie Felix, 25, felt she had to be there on Friday.

"There's no sense of closure yet," she said.

Julia Robertson and Jennifer Hisey
Jennifer Hisey (right) knows the anguish of waiting for news
"I thought that the only way to begin to get that closure would be to be with other Americans and find some peace in this terrible tragedy."

Among the crowds waiting outside was Jennifer Hisey - originally from Texas but now working in London - whose brother in law escaped as the WTC was struck for the second time.

She said and her friend Julia Robertson felt compelled to come along to the service not just to give thanks for his survival but to remember those who were not so fortunate.

Prince Charles
Prince Charles gave his personal message of support to one American
As the service began, the mood became more uplifting with the American National Anthem moving some to tears - followed by a sermon emphasising the triumph of good over evil.

For some the highly emotional atmosphere was all too much as they hugged one another for comfort.

Following the service the Royal Family, the Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie and the Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey were among dignitaries who mingled with the crowd.

Prince Charles gave a personal message to Geoffrey Smith, from Buffalo, whose sister Kelly was caught up in the attacks on New York.

The Queen outside St Paul's, London
The Queen offered her words of sympathy
Mr Smith told the prince how his sister had been coming out of the subway when the planes struck the towers.

She managed to escape by running over Brooklyn Bridge along with thousands of other people.

The Prince asked Mr Smith - who lives and works now in London - to pass on his best wishes to his sister on his behalf.

Afterwards Mr Smith said: "His message was very meaningful."

Mr Smith and his friend Paula Kirby - originally of New York - said the service could not have been more appropriate.

"You feel a sense of helplessness and detached being over here in the UK.

"But people have been wonderful. Today has given me a chance to be with other Americans and to be part of a community".

There was indeed an overwhelming feeling of standing shoulder-to-shoulder in grief.

It was all the more poignant coming so soon after the attacks.

The memory of a sea of faces singing and praying will be one that lingers in people's minds for many years to come.

And it was all too evident that the human cost of this tragedy will be remembered for generations.

The words of one American at the service will echo the sentiment of many when she said: "We never thought this would happen in America."

The BBC's Justin Webb
"Right across Europe three minutes of silence were observed"
See also:

13 Sep 01 | UK
'We just want to go home'
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