Crash jolts Queens neighborhood into action

By Robert Tanner

Associated Press

NEW YORK – Neighbors jolted from their beds as a jet crashed near their homes today ran outside with fire extinguishers and grabbed garden hoses to fight fires left by debris from the crash.

“The whole house shook,” said Gus Cholakis, who lives a hundred yards from where a huge chunk of debris fell. “I looked out the window, the first thing I saw was a huge fireball right outside.”

Smoke rose from the residential Queens neighborhood in the shadow of air traffic from nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport. Police and fire crews rushed to the scene. Two local schools – empty of students for the Veterans Day holiday – were turned into triage centers to prepare for injured.

One piece of debris set aflame part of a Texaco gas station a few blocks from John Maroney’s home. The jet’s engine landed just 6 feet from the station’s gas tanks.

“We were all out there with fire extinguishers and hoses but we couldn’t do much,” Maroney said. An unidentified witness told a local television station that neighborhood residents ran to the burning buildings to try to help.

Dolores Ravanno said she saw construction workers screaming as they ran down the street. Other people hugged in the street, said Daniella van Graas, who was also woken by the crash.

The American Airlines jetliner was on its way to the Dominican Republic with 255 people aboard when it crashed moments after takeoff. Bush administration officials said the FBI believed there was an explosion aboard the plane, and was investigating whether it was the result of a mechanical failure or sabotage.

It was unclear how many buildings in the neighborhood were on fire; one witness said six or seven may have been burning and another said the wreckage lay across perhaps a dozen homes.

“We have several conflicting reports of what happened,” Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said, before he went aloft in a helicopter to view the scene. “Obviously, it did a lot of damage. We don’t know the full extent of it.”

At JFK, Cindy Kinnard was waiting to board a flight when the smoke began to rise off in the distance.

“People reached for cell phones to tell loved ones they were OK,” she said. “I saw people run to the three Internet terminals to start writing emails right away.”

Milena Owens, who lives two blocks from the crash site, said she was putting up Thanksgiving decorations on her window when she saw the plane fly far too low. “I heard the explosion and I looked out the window and saw the flames and the smoke and I just thought, ‘Oh no, not again.’ “

Many braced for the worst in the neighborhood 15 miles from the smoking remains of the World Trade Center and home to many city firefighters. Residents say between 70 and 100 of their neighbors were lost in the Sept. 11 attack on the trade center.

Cholakis, 38, said he lost 13 friends and hoped he didn’t lose any more today. “This neighborhood has been through enough.”

The Rockaway Beach neighborhood is on a peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay, which separates it from Kennedy airport. The crash snapped many people out of their holiday routine.

Marisa Rudolph, 13, was watching TV when the plane crashed.

“The whole house shook, and all the power went out. I grabbed my mom and my sister and we headed for the door,” she said. “We looked out across the street and we could see the roof of one of the houses was on fire.

“There was a mushroom cloud of smoke right across the street.”

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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