By Cynthia Cooper
Friday, September 14, 2001
The city's first woman firefighter still working to save lives, the African American Manhattan borough president, the state's U.S. senator with worldwide name recognition are united in expressing not only sadness but determination to rebuild.
"It's enormous," said a weary Brenda Berkman, talking for a bare few minutes on Thursday the first time she was away from the World Trade Center since Tuesday's attack. Around the clock, she has been working with rescue crews digging through the rubble.
Berkman suffered a minor injury when her arm was cut in sifting through the debris, requiring treatment and a tetanus shot. Regardless, after a bit of rest, she will return to the rescue effort.
Berkman's Ladder Company No. 12 in Chelsea suffered devastating losses of firefighters, as did other firehouses in the first division of lower Manhattan because they were the first called to the scene, said Berkman.
"In the first division, a huge number of the companies lost anywhere from one or two firefighters to 13 or 14. A huge number of firefighters are missing--as many as 400--and many I have worked with," said a clearly exhausted Berkman.
Berkman is the first female firefighter in New York City and the second highest-ranking woman in the New York City Fire Department. The department has less than 30 women among its 11,000 firefighters.
The first firehouses to respond suffered the heaviest losses because they were inside the buildings when they collapsed, she explained. She talked about the emotional toll of lost colleagues--one of the four lieutenants in Berkman's company is missing--combined with dangerous and rigorous physical work.
"All of the firefighters express their gratitude for the great concern for them. I want to make sure everyone knows how grateful I am for his and her good wishes. And if people can help in any way, big or small, we really appreciate it," said Berkman. She planned to head back to the former World Trade Center site on Friday morning after a few hours' respite.
"We're on the ground on this," said Fields, a figure who has been in the background of many news conferences, but is seldom handed the microphone. "I'm as horrified as everyone else. Our effort is to provide as much assistance and support to the residents down in that area. The World Trade Center represents a financial center to the world and New York, but the reality is that there are neighborhoods and communities that live there."
Fields said that thousands of people, especially from the new Battery Park City complex, were evacuated to New Jersey or to stay with relatives.
"They want to know when they will be able to return, and, of course, they won't be able to return until services are restored. And many want to know about pets that have been left. We have been able to get information to them, arrange to get people back into their apartments and retrieve pets and some things they weren't able to get."
Other residents, many elderly, were not evacuated but do not have services, cannot breathe the air, or do not have food supplies, she said.
"There is a sizable senior population, predominantly women," said Fields. "I was down today passing out masks, facilitating food, water, bread. In one complex of seniors, we are trying to line up a dozen cellular phones so that the seniors can get in touch with their families. Others have asked for grief counseling and emotional support. And we have taken it on to make it happen. They do not see their needs as priorities within the massive scale of things that have to be dealt with, but everything that happened to our country and our city, also happened to their neighborhood."
Concerned about the economic recovery of the area, Fields said, for now, she is concentrating on human needs: "You know about the 'women's thing'--and how we do the work," she said.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first woman to represent New York in the U.S. Senate, delivered an extensive statement on the floor of the Senate after the World Trade Center tragedy.
Prior to the attack, she noted, it was a beautiful day in New York.
"My daughter told me that it was one of those days where the skies were totally clear and there was a breeze and people were starting to line up at the polling places to vote because it was primary day, election day--a continuation of the commitment to democracy and self-government that has set us apart from every society that has ever existed because of the longevity of our democracy and the will of our people to constantly renew ourselves, " Clinton said.
"New Yorkers went from standing in line to vote to standing in line to donate blood in just a few hours. I don't think any of us will get out of our minds the images that we saw on television of the plane going into the first tower, the plane going into the second tower, the plane going into the Pentagon. But there were tens of thousands of our fellow Americans, people that live in New York and New Jersey and Connecticut--people literally from every part of our country and indeed the world--for whom this was not an event that they watched in horror on television, but they lived through and in too many instances did not survive."
Clinton said that the grim task of identifying the missing lay ahead, but that it was imperative to "account for every single person who went to work. That is all they did: they went to work, on a beautiful September day in New York."
She also stood firm that the city should not only recover, but also rebuild. "You know, New York was not an accidental choice for these madmen, these terrorists, and these instruments of evil. They deliberately chose to strike at a city, which is a global city--it is the city of the 21st Century--it epitomizes who we are as Americans. And I know--because I know America--that America will stand behind New York."
"As soon as I learned of the attacks on the Trade Center, I drove to Manhattan to be with my family and offer assistance to my friends and neighbors," Carolyn B. Maloney said. "My heart is warmed by the response of our city--the rescue workers, the medical response teams, the orderly evacuation of lower Manhattan by the people who work and live there and the thousands who have gone to blood donor centers."
"We are the most diverse city in the world but today we are united as one," Maloney added. Maloney was spending most of her time on the site of World Trade Center tragedy activities, working shoulder to shoulder with volunteers, according to her press secretary.
Carolyn McCarthy, a health care worker who first ran for office after her husband was killed in a rampage on a commuter railroad, spoke directly to victims and their families.
"It is with heavy hearts that we turn our anger and energies into help for the victims and their families as they try to make sense of this act of war on our great country." McCarthy said that she was working with colleagues on emergency spending for victims and their families as they "face futures forever changed." New York, she said, "has seen many tragedies," and would come through this one united and stronger than ever.
"It's a tragedy of immense proportions. We haven't begun to experience or understand it yet. It's a situation experienced in other countries, where everyone you know is going to know someone who died. There's going to be a need for a lot of attention and loving and caring for each other," said Messinger. Her organization has begun a relief fund to assist World Trade Center victims and emergency needs.
Messinger, a former mayoral candidate and a long-time member of the New York City council, spoke about a concern that many other women's leaders have expressed.
"I certainly hope that women are included in the effort to increase a commitment to dialogue across racial, ethnic and religious lines. From my work as a social worker, in politics and now in international affairs, I know that women are better at this."
"The smoke makes me think of concentration camps and the mass destruction of human life. It breaks my heart," said Holtzman. The lawyer represented New York in Congress in the 1970s and was well-known for her role in the Watergate inquiry and on tracking Nazi war criminals.
"But it's so emotional. I think men are reacting the same way as women. It goes beyond gender in terms of pain and grief," Holtzman added, noting that children were on the airplanes and could have been in day care centers at the World Trade Center. "This kind of fanaticism that so denigrates humanity spells trouble for everyone."
"These terrorist attacks were directed at the very idea of America itself," said Representative Nita M. Lowey. In the House of Representatives, Lowey went on to describe the sad farewells between trapped employees and loved ones elsewhere.
"My children called to share their shock, and to tell of a friend whose husband--trapped on a high floor in one of the towers--called only to say goodbye to the wife he knew he would never see again. All around him, his colleagues were on the phone to their loved ones--for the last time.
Leaving her personal experiences, Lowey addressed "all those who have lost so much."
"We want you to know that our hearts and prayers are with you," she said. "All of America stands with you. For the man who called to tell his wife just one last time that he loved her--for the hundreds of brave officers, firefighters, and rescue workers who sacrificed their lives so others might live--we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice. There will be no safe harbor for those who would visit such enormous devastation on our citizens.
"No more glorifying violence. No more praise for martyrdom, " Lowey added. "Those who rejoice in our tragedy will be exiled from the community of nations. Our people and our landmarks have been attacked, but the essence of America is indestructible. Our core principles--justice, liberty, and democracy--will remain forever unscathed."
Representative Velazquez, a Democrat, issued a statement, assuring that she stood in solidarity with the president. "No one should doubt our unity and our commitment to rebuild in the wake of this deliberate tragedy," she said.
She also spoke directly to the rescue workers and city volunteers: "Thousands of you risked your lives to help others as smoke, ash and debris rained on you. Thousands more of you streamed into blood donation centers to meet an incredible demand, saving countless more lives. Your spirit and resilience make our city and our country great. Together we will rebuild our city even greater than it was before."
U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter said: "We are all brokenhearted over the needless loss of life that has occurred. Too many beloved spouses, parents, siblings, and children had their futures snatched away by madmen. Scores of firefighters, police officers, and rescue personnel were lost when their dedication drove them to the scene and into the damaged buildings to help the victims. These men and women are national heroes.
"As time passes, more stories of heroism will emerge--people who put their own lives at risk in order to aid others. I am astounded and very proud to have heard how many people stayed calm in the midst of chaos. Time and again, we heard how perfect strangers reached out to help each other survive and escape. In the worst of circumstances, the very best in these people emerged."
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Content Manager Siobhan Benet contributed to this story.