On the third day, New York tried to move toward some semblance of normality, but too often it seemed to fail. Frazzled police officers found themselves responding to dozens of false bomb scares, mass transit officials worked to keep a fractured system up and running, and people everywhere struggled to shake the paralysis of fear.
In a lunchtime span of 90 minutes, bomb scares in a half-dozen public and private buildings---Grand Central Terminal, Macy's and La Guardia Airport among them---sent thousands of panicked people fleeing into the streets. As well, all three New York-area airports were shut down, again, in the late afternoon when law enforcement officials took 10 people into custody at Kennedy International and La Guardia Airports, including at least one of the men who investigators believe had come under suspicion at Kennedy on the day of the attack.
And police checkpoints everywhere slowed traffic to a crawl. At one point, law enforcement officials engaged in a manhunt that briefly shut off access to Staten Island.
The sporadic service of mass transit and the partial closings of several subway lines caused particular frustration and fear. Throughout the day, officials limited subway service out of concern that the rumble of trains might upset the buildings and tunnels of Lower Manhattan made fragile by Tuesday's devastation.
All the while, telltale plumes of smoke rose from the south, marking where the terrorist attack had killed thousands of people and destroyed the World Trade Center, whose twin towers once symbolized international commerce. A five-square-mile stretch of the Manhattan island remained restricted, as soldiers and police officers stood sentry at blue barricades along 14th Street.
The workday had only begun when Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani provided statistics that began to give some vague dimension to an American atrocity: 4,763 people reported missing, 184 bodies or body parts recovered, 6,000 tons of rubble removed, and 30,000 body bags available.
Mr. Giuliani continued to talk with steely confidence about the continuing reclamation project now known as New York City---about how the access boundary would be moved south to Canal Street by today, and how engineering consultants were testing the structural integrity of Lower Manhattan's infrastructure. And the mayor, who has sought out grievance counselors for advice on how to address city residents, urged calm.
"Do not overreact," he advised at a news conference at which he also addressed the day's dozens of reports of bomb scares and suspicious circumstances handled by the police. "People have to understand we are living with a great deal of faith here. Remain calm."
The great majority of those working and living in New York yesterday did just that.
Customers quietly ate omelets at a Burger Heaven in Midtown, while images from Tuesday's mayhem appeared on televisions propped above the counter. Office workers scurried through Times Square with their morning coffees in hand, while the electronic news zipper at 1 Times Square reflected worldwide talk of war. Theater owners announced that Broadway was open again for business.
Most of the city's public, private and parochial schools reopened after a day's hiatus.
Hundreds of thousands of public- school children were in attendance, school officials said, though tens of thousands more stayed home, about twice the usual number.
The day's lesson plans for many teachers included a careful discussion of this week's terrorist attack on their students' city.
But the explicit message to remain calm, coupled with the implicit reminder to buck up in keeping with the city's fabled toughness, sometimes seemed to fall short of helping people to meet the complexities of an extraordinarily difficult day.
In Midtown, a Roman Catholic Puerto Rican man wearing a black- and-white kaffiyeh---a cotton head covering often worn by Arabs---was pushed against a wall and handcuffed by police officers because someone told them that he had a bomb; he did not.
In the West Village, a woman answered her ringing cell phone, only to hear an AT&T representative ask whether she was all right. The representative explained that the company was monitoring downtown phone signals to see if it could detect signs of life in the wreckage.
And crisscrossing Manhattan throughout the day was a cabdriver, Manuel Jara, who admitted that the terrorist attack had so dazed him that he was struggling to remember that Sixth Avenue travels north, not south. He had seen the smoke billowing in the immediate aftermath of the first tower's collapse, and had tried to comfort a hysterical passenger.
Sure, he said, people were hailing cabs in Manhattan again. But now, he said, "it's completely different."
With dawn came the confusing---and often changing---information about rush-hour options.
The Holland Tunnel was closed, but the Lincoln Tunnel and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel were open. The Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges were closed, but the George Washington Bridge was open, with routine, even comforting, delays.
Trains from Long Island, Connecticut, Westchester County and New Jersey returned to normal weekday schedules, although officials reported that ridership was down by as much as half. And by late morning, La Guardia, Kennedy International and Newark International Airports opened for their brief, limited attempt at operation.
Traffic was even affected on the Hudson River. The United States Coast Guard continued to keep the waterway closed to all traffic near the Indian Point nuclear plants in Westchester County, to protect the facility from an attack from the water. The ban meant that ships from New York Harbor could not bring heating oil, gasoline and other goods upstate, and that no upstate barges or tankers could reach the city.
For an hour beginning shortly after 8 a.m., Staten Island's four bridges were closed as police cruisers and unmarked cars joined the Joint Terrorism Task Force in chasing a particular car---"a suspicious vehicle that might have been linked to the attack," one official said---that had driven onto the island from New Jersey and disappeared.
In the context of the day, the isolation of an entire New York borough seemed almost routine. Eventually, Mayor Giuliani simply said, "The Staten Island car turned out to be nothing."
But the inconveniences that the car chase caused in Staten Island paled when compared with those at certain subway lines. Shouting matches and at least one fistfight broke out at the sprawling station in Brooklyn at Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street, as frustrated commuters struggled to find a train that would take them to Manhattan.
The No. 2 and No. 3 trains, along with the N and R trains, had been closed since the twin towers toppled, but late Wednesday night, the Fire Department asked transit officials to shut down the No. 4 and No. 5 trains as well, for fear that vibrations from the trains would further weaken some buildings in Lower Manhattan. Police officers carrying bullhorns and barricades had to rush into the station to restore order.
In fact, the only trains bound from that central station for Manhattan were the Q and the W, but for an hour those two lines were down as well. "Why don't they just shut this all down?" screamed one woman, tears streaking her face. "Nothing is working anyway."
At times during the day, it seemed that nothing worked---and then, that everything worked. Gov. George E. Pataki announced that the primaries that had been postponed on Tuesday would be held on Sept. 25, and that the City Council would hold its regularly scheduled meeting in the afternoon (in the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and not in City Hall, which remains closed).
"The business of the city will go on," the governor said.
But on the first day of the city's return to business, things got weird.
A man commuting into the city from Great Neck on Long Island said he had worn a felt mask over his mouth "because of a lot of the irritants that are in the air." A woman on another Long Island Rail Road platform, in Manhasset, began crying at the thought of returning to Manhattan; "Who knows what will happen anywhere?"
American flags and blood-drive posters began appearing in storefront windows. Familiar landmarks suddenly looked like inviting targets for terrorists, and routine sirens suddenly sounded like cries of warning.
At Lincoln Center, near Avery Fisher Hall, a 90-minute street drama played out as police officers investigated the nature of an abandoned and illegally parked Cadillac Coupe DeVille, with a suitcase visible in its back seat. The immediate area was cordoned off as members of the Police Department's bomb squad gingerly opened the suitcase---only to find junk.
At lunchtime, a series of bomb scares began, many of them centered on Midtown.
Confused hordes of people ran out of several buildings along a stretch of Seventh Avenue just north of Madison Square Garden, only to stand around and wait for some guidance.
"We were notified there was a bomb threat and we were hurried down the steps as fast as possible," said Bill Hewson, an employee of the Visiting Nurse Service at 5 Penn Plaza.
He added that he expected similar exercises of panic in the days to come, saying, "All you need is a phone book, and to want disruption."
After a bomb scare at the Condi-Nast building in Times Square, employees were told that the offices would be closed until Monday, as a precaution.
There were other scares and evacuations through the day: at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, in the Times Square subway station, at Grand Central Terminal, where transit workers with megaphones shouted: "Everybody to the streets! Everybody to the streets!"
A police officer trying to contain the crowds pouring out onto 42nd Street was asked whether there had been a threat. "Yeah," she said. "Go."
Last night, as the third day of a transformed New York City drew to a close, the lights went on.
Down in Lower Manhattan, they shined bright again upon the search- and-recovery workers still toiling above the ash-covered burial site for thousands. And on Broadway, they shined again upon actors trained to provoke thought about the human condition.
At the end of a performance of "The Producers," Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane led the audience in a rendition of "God Bless America."
"They shouldn't rob us of our right to have a good time," Mr. Lane said after the performance.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
New Scares and Transit Snags Hamper City's Return to Normal
The New York Times By DAN BARRY Published: September 14, 2001