N.Y. stripped of vitality

Newsday and the associated press

NEW YORK – The city was a stranger Wednesday.

Prayer services replaced baseball games and Broadway matinees. People walked along deserted streets normally clogged with cars and buses. Construction workers who dig foundations instead dug for corpses.

The huge dust cloud from the destruction of the World Trade Center chased scores of pedestrians through SoHo as the winds briefly blew northward.

A National Guard tank sat, ominously, under the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan, along with trucks for carrying troops.

People walked along nearly deserted streets usually jammed with buses and cars, even in neon-lit Times Square.

Bicyclists pedaled down the center lanes of wide avenues. Pedestrians – some teary-eyed – passed closed restaurants and shops.

“People are just numb,” said Ed Gerstein, a Brooklyn accountant.

“It’s not even like a Saturday or a Sunday,” contractor John Sullivan said outside a midtown Manhattan construction site, “and the people you do see, there’s just no life in them.”

Many security restrictions on the city’s vast transportation system were lifted Wednesday, allowing commuters whose companies did not close for the day to get to work on subways, commuter trains and buses. Many other businesses were closed – including the entire financial district.

Upper levels of the George Washington Bridge into northern Manhattan were reopened, but other bridges and tunnels remained closed to car traffic, leaving a city famous for its colossal traffic jams absent of drivers honking their horns in frustration.

At a Dunkin’ Donuts in midtown, the racks that normally hold hundreds of doughnuts and muffins were empty. Trucks had not been allowed into the city to make the morning delivery.

One day after the incomprehensible had occurred, people struggled to make sense of it, or at least find what passes for a sense of security in a changed city.

Bill Lieberman, a Manhattan lawyer, said he cannot shake off the image of bodies falling from the burning tower, which he witnessed from his office before joining the mass exodus from lower Manhattan, fearing for his life.

The next morning, he found out that a friend’s brother was among the casualties. He stayed away from TV news’ death reports and the broadcast images that were repeated often. He then remembered the advice of his late father, a veteran of World War II combat, and “grabbed onto beauty.” He spent time with his daughter, Liana, 16, listened to classical music and lingered for an hour in Riverside Park, gazing at pretty flowers.

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