- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

NEW YORK Businessmen and women clutched their white dust masks along with their briefcases as the city's financial district opened for the first time since last week's terrorist attacks and they returned to work.

"It looks like business as usual except for the Army guys," said Denise Leonard, manager of the Equinox Fitness Club two blocks from the New York Stock Exchange.

Soldiers lined the streets along with police officers, watching the curious crowds, which were a mix of ghoulish tourists and anxious men in suits and ties.

The tourists stopped anywhere they could get a glimpse of the pulverized block that once held the World Trade Center. They stood in the dusty, narrow side streets to see the skeletal remains of the once vibrant skyscrapers.

"It's exciting to see people in the streets again," said Miss Leonard, whose club has about 2,000 members, mostly from downtown businesses. Some may not return, she acknowledged, likely killed in last Tuesday's attack.

The number of people missing has risen to 5,422, with 201 bodies recovered, New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said yesterday. He told a news conference that 135 of the bodies had been identified: They include 34 New York firefighters and one from New Jersey, two emergency workers and two Port Authority police.

The mayor said that New Yorkers "must prepare for the reality that we're not going to recover a significant number of people." The previous toll from the bombings was 5,097 persons missing and 180 bodies recovered. Five survivors have been found, but none for five days.

The day began with police officers, firefighters and Port Authority officers ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

The furor to return was undeniable.

A psychiatric social worker who wanted to get back to her patients a list that has already grown was emphatic that she get her pre-terrorism life back.

"It is for the sanity of the people," she said. "We want to get back to our routine so that we can recover to make sure all of our life wasn't completely ended. People are anxious, but it is what we need to do."

The returning masses were shuttled past road blocks to side streets because the downtown's main thoroughfare, Broadway, was being used by rescue workers and cleanup crews.

People walked elbow-to-elbow past bins of twisted steel beams and metal baskets full of two-by-fours and frayed blocks of concrete. A haze that is part smoke and part dust still wafted overhead, and those who didn't bring their own dust masks used handkerchiefs and napkins.

It was a return to a new world for almost everyone. Nothing was the same, from the smear of dust on the once elegant, aged buildings, to the stunned looks on many of the faces.

"I was not worried about myself coming here," said Thomas Donovan, who stood at Broadway and Wall Street in his blue trader's smock. The stricken look on his face said he was not over it.

"It is so bad," he said, his eyes clouding.

Shop owners hosed the dust off of awnings and sidewalks before opening. Some remained closed in order to clean up for a day.

Dust permeated even the most obscure crevices. A shoe display at De Janeiro, a woman's clothing store, was cloaked in dust that looked almost like snow.

Even the sunlight now reflects differently on the streets. Angles have changed with the obliteration of eight buildings that formed two city blocks.

"You can't really stop living," said Robert Blount, a bond carrier for the Bank of U.S. Trust on Broad Street, four blocks from the disaster site. "But coming here is like walking past the dead. There is no way to return to the way we lived before down here."

He pulled from his pocket two identification cards that temporary visitors to the trade center used to receive. They were dated Aug. 21 and Aug. 24.

"I will keep these forever, to remind myself how close I was. At any time, I could have been in there."

Mr. Blount took an extended lunch break like many others yesterday. While doors were open, commerce was slow.

"We will take a while to get back that business last week, but people, they are already coming in," Ana Gutierrez, owner of 55 Nassau Shoe Repair, said in fractured English. The Guatemala native pointed to two pairs of weathered shoes, both caked with the gray dust that is the bane of the financial district.

"See, we already have business."

Still others went home early. Michael Bennett grabbed the train back to his Brooklyn home after police refused to allow him access to his office.

"I called and called, but I'll bet nobody could get in," said Mr. Bennett, a customer service representative for J & R Music World. He looked down Ann Street forlornly. He couldn't even get his morning cup of coffee when he got off the subway at 8 a.m. His usual deli was closed.

"I guess I'll just go home." Before he left, though, like many New Yorkers, he had a story to share about the tragedy.

"I was vacationing in Santa Barbara last week," he said, a few people stopping to listen. "And we wanted to take a boat ride to the island. I asked if they had any reservations, and they said, 'Yes, unfortunately we do.' Thirty people who were on one of the planes that hit the towers were headed there and had reserved a boat."

Before heading off for home, Mr. Bennet added:

"Pretty soon, we will at least be able to live our lives."

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