New York City, Five Years Later

July 7, 2008 - 8:23 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Amid the chaos when two hijacked planes smashed into the World Trade Center, collapsing the Twin Towers, New Yorkers greeted the horrific event with both shock and resolve.

Even as tears were shed for the more than 2,700 people killed in New York, lines were forming around the block at Manhattan's St. Vincent Hospital, as shocked and saddened people waited to donate blood.

While a makeshift shrine was created on the fence of St. Paul's Church next to Ground Zero, the first recovery efforts began in the 10-story mound of twisted steel and debris.

Early estimates said it would take up to two years to clear some two million tons of debris. But the job was completed in just over eight months, with trucks hauling debris around the clock from the site that became known as the "Pit."

NYC Rises to the Challenge

Wall Street was severely impacted by the terror attacks, including the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, which occupied three floors above the point where an American Airlines jet plowed into Tower 1.

Cantor Fitzgerald lost 658 employees. When Wall Street reopened after the longest closure since the Great Depression, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 684 points, its worst one-day drop in history. It would take until January 9, 2006, for the Dow to again close above 11,000. Traders now go to work amid an unprecedented security presence.

The World Trade Center contained nearly 14 million square feet of office space. And the forced closure of nearby buildings dried up an additional 20 million square feet of office space, according to the New York real estate firm Tenantwise. That's an area equivalent to the entire commercial real estate space of Atlanta or Miami.

While a few of the nearly 14,000 displaced businesses moved out of the city, others took advantage of a reeling hospitality industry, leasing hotel rooms in Manhattan and Brooklyn as temporary office space. In all, nearly 30 of the largest tenants of the World Trade Center remained in Manhattan after the attacks, according to a New York University study.

The New York City Comptroller's office released a report in 2002 saying that 83,000 jobs were lost in New York City in the days and weeks after 9/11.

The New York City workforce, estimated at over 3.65 million today, is just a fraction smaller than it was on September 10, 2001, indicating a strong rebound from the disaster.

"I was wondering if I was still going to have a job. I thought airborne news reporting and helicopter coverage might have come to an end," said Joe Biermann, helicopter news reporter for WCBS-TV in New York City who was unable to fly for 90 days due to flight restrictions around New York City.

On 9/11, Biermann and his pilot were in the air, flying toward Manhattan when an air traffic controller gave them an ultimatum.

"We were airborne and were told bluntly, 'Land immediately or you will be shot down.' We didn't hesitate. We turned around, landed, and spent three months on the ground."

The New York City Fire Department lost 343 firefighters in less than 3 hours, many of them on their way up staircases to rescue trapped people. Not a single member of Brooklyn's Ladder Company #118 made it home that day.

Continuing Concerns

Although there are signs of renewal at Ground Zero, new health concerns have surfaced in recent months.

A recent study by New York's Mount Sinai Hospital found that nearly seven in 10 first responders have suffered respiratory problems during or after their work at the World Trade Center site. One-third of patients in the study showed diminished lung capacity as a result of breathing in the "toxic brew" of asbestos, particles of glass and concrete, jet fuel and other hazardous materials released when the towers collapsed.

"An estimated 40,000 rescue and recovery workers were exposed to caustic dust and airborne toxic pollutants following 9/11," said Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., who chairs the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai.

New York officials blame the Environmental Protection Agency for telling workers that the air at Ground Zero was safe to breathe.

NYPD Detective James Zadroga spent nearly 500 hours at Ground Zero involved in the rescue and recovery operation. He died four years later. The medical examiner in Ocean County, N.J., determined that Zadroga's death was directly linked to his work at Ground Zero, but the city refused to recognize his death as being in the line of duty.

At a special health hearing in Manhattan last week, Zadroga's father blasted Christine Todd Whitman, the former head of the EPA for falsely reassuring people like his son that the air around Ground Zero was safe.

"I think she should go to jail," Joseph Zadroga told the hearing.

Whitman, appearing on CBS News program 60 Minutes, said, "The air -- ambient air quality in Lower Manhattan, this was not about the pile (Ground Zero), this was about lower Manhattan -- the readings were showing us that there was nothing that gave us any concern about long-term health implications." Whitman said the situation "was different on the pile itself, at ground zero."

She added the city, and not the EPA, was responsible for enforcing the use of masks and other breathing apparatus.

Another ongoing fight involves what should be built at Ground Zero. Many Americans want the Twin Towers replaced with other skyscrapers, and that's what the city and Port Authority plan to do: Three skyscrapers, one of them reaching 80 stories, are slated to go up next to the proposed Freedom Tower - expected to be the world's tallest building at 1,776 feet. The work is supposed to be done by 2012.

It has taken nearly 5 years, but plans for the memorial to be built at Ground Zero have been finalized. The memorial is now scheduled to open in September, 2009.

As for security, New York City has maintained Level Orange ever since the Department of Homeland Security devised the code. Police maintain a high-profile appearance at tourist attractions, on Wall Street, at major subway and bus hubs, at the airports, and near Manhattan's bridges and tunnels.

On Sunday, President Bush attended a memorial service at Ground Zero. Among those who gathered at the fence surrounding the World Trade Center site were tourists and protesters, including groups demanding peace and some conspiracy theorists who believed the government was behind 9/11.

"I don't agree with (the protesters)," said John Cammarata whose best friend lost his father on 9/11. Amid cries of "Bush go home," Cammarata said he wished the protesters weren't there - "but that's what freedom is all about."

Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.