Mon, Sep 11, 2017 - Page 5 News List

New Yorkers on edge, 16 years after 9/11 attacks

AFP, NEW YORK

It is a typical late summer weekend in New York’s Times Square and tourists from around the world are snapping pictures underneath the commercial hub’s iconic neon billboards — watched closely by a heavy contingent of police.

Four cruisers are parked in the middle of the busy intersection, and pedestrian zones have been surrounded by barriers to stop cars from ramming the crowd, a mode of attack favored by violent extremists in recent years.

“I don’t like to come to places like this,” Brooklyn massage therapist Sue Garcia said. “Or anywhere where incidents have happened repeatedly — the fear comes to mind.”

Fear of an attack. Fear of another Sept. 11, 2001 — the deadliest terrorist assault in history, when almost 3,000 lives were extinguished, many in the rubble of New York’s World Trade Center (WTC) buildings.

For New Yorkers who lost loved ones, narrowly survived or just witnessed the event, memories remain fresh and old wounds are reopened on each anniversary. A perpetual state of high alert is the new normal.

Garcia, now 33, was a high-schooler when the planes slammed into the Twin Towers. She saw them burn and then collapse, and walked all the way home like hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers that day after metro services were suspended.

“I was there, I saw it over and over again, I don’t need to think about it,” she said.

However, her mind always drifts toward the horrors of that day, whenever it is mentioned on TV, or even “when I hear an airplane: It is like the trigger to the thought. It has subsided over the years but it is still there,” she added.

Or while waiting to meet her sister in Times Square, “The Crossroads of the World,” that symbolizes the spirit of New York.

Twice in recent years, catastrophe loomed. In May 2010, police discovered a car packed with explosives and primed for carnage.

In May, a mentally ill ex-soldier deliberately drove his sedan into 23 pedestrians, killing a young US tourist.

The episodes of anxiety described by Garcia are a burden borne by many New Yorkers.

For those directly affected, the anniversaries of the attacks are the “most dreaded date” of the year and post-traumatic stress can remain for a person’s entire life, said Charles Strozier, a psychoanalyst and author of a book that documents the experiences of survivors and witnesses.

“There was a collective trauma, the sense of having been proven to be not invulnerable,” he said.

“To say that New Yorkers are still traumatized is an exaggeration, but they think about it, they are aware of it, they do have active fears just below the surface of consciousness about things like bombs in the subways,” said the professor, who watched the destruction of the World Trade Center from his office just off Union Square.

Many are also convinced that, even though recent terror attacks have focused on Europe, it is New York, the beating heart of the Western world, that remains the prime target.

“What better target, unfortunately, than NYC?” IT consultant Tim Lambert asked.

Then, as now, he worked on the southern tip of Manhattan near the WTC site.

The city, he says, is a “magnet for people from all over the world... It symbolizes the freedoms that we have, the money that we have. What better way to make a statement?”

The 52-year-old said a heavier police presence is now a fact of life that people have come to expect.

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