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New York City

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By  Pete Hamill, Diana Kane, and Noel Maitland    
Photographs by Ira Block

Portrait of a neighborhood torn apart: Three New Yorkers—a firefighter, a television producer, and a journalist—remember September 11 and reflect on how it changed their shocked city forever.

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Weeks later, when the sirens had vanished from the night and we were no longer asked for passports, gas bills, and driver's licenses to prove that we lived in what we came to call the frozen zone, everything looked the same and everything felt different.

My wife, Fukiko, and I were lucky. We had been across the street when Tower 2 came down with the roaring sound of a steel-and-glass avalanche. We were engulfed by that cloud of dust that rose 25 stories above the street, a cloud so opaque that it looked like a solid. The cloud was made of pulverized floors, exploded glass, smashed desks, computers, food, file cabinets, and human beings. She and I were separated in the dust, found our way home separately, and celebrated the simple fact of being alive.

We were lucky in another way: In our loft 14 blocks north of ground zero, we had electricity. Television, telephones, the Internet all worked. So did we. For nine straight days, we wrote newspaper stories about the calamity. On the tenth day I wrote nothing and for the first time sat on a couch, thinking about the ruined world, and wept.

But life also provided its own consolations. In the streets we met some of our neighbors for the first time. We stood on street corners together, manual laborers and dot-com workers, mothers and children, all staring downtown at the smoldering stumps of the towers. We asked about children, and dogs, and survivors. The emotions of awe, horror, rage were gone quickly, replaced by a shared sense of vulnerability.

That is what remains: vulnerability. And from vulnerability there has emerged a tough fatalism. We all learned, that terrible morning, that we could die while reaching for a piece of toast at breakfast. Where I live, that knowledge has made us more human. Even on streets noisy again with traffic, strangers say good morning. Men kiss their wives more, and hug their children, and walk with them to the Hudson to embrace the sunset. But not one talks with utter confidence about tomorrow. 

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Online Extra
Learn how  St. Paul's church, on the periphery of ground zero, survived and transformed itself into a safe haven for rescue workers. Then manipulate 360º images of the chapel's interior and exterior.

The September 11 terrorist attacks left the nation reeling. How have you been affected? How can we help families and the nation heal? Tell us your stories.


September 11
Do the events of that day continue to affect you in a profound manner?


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More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?

Where do we get statistics for our zip code stories? Outside of the post office, who finds zip code information useful? Few agencies collect information based on zip codes, but, lucky for us, the U.S. Census Bureau is one of them. The Census Bureau started crunching data at the zip code level in 1970. (Zip codes first came into being on July 1, 1963). Want to know how many single-parent households in your zip code have children under 18? Check out American FactFinder on the Census's website. There is information on age, race, gender, and household size by zip code (and larger and smaller areas as well) in the Census 2000 Summary File 1 at

Data from 1970 and 1980 are housed on magnetic tape at the National Archives. Consult the following Web pages for more information:

1970: Fifth Count File B:

1980: Summary Tape File (STF) 3B:

1990 Census data is available online at

—Heidi Schultz

Did You Know?

Related Links
Ira Block Photography
Learn more about National Geographic photographer Ira Block and browse through his online photo library.

September 11 Photo Project
Read about the goals of this traveling project, find out where it will be exhibited next, and submit your own photos.

K-9 Disaster Relief Organization
Learn about this nonprofit organization that provides police, fire, and emergency organizations with canine therapy services during disasters. Check out Nikie's page to get the full story on the therapy dog pictured in the magazine article.

Explore pages on the history of Manhattan fire companies and fire safety or visit the New York City Fire Museum.

Environmental Protection Agency
Find information on air quality in Lower Manhattan and asbestos clean-up efforts on the "EPA response to September 11" Web pages.

The Attack on America
Join this special forum to give your opinions, reactions, and stories about September 11.

Rescue Dogs of  September 11
Learn about the rescue dogs that searched for missing people in the wreckage at the Pentagon, the World Trade Center, and Somerset, Pennsylvania.

Understanding Afghanistan: Land in Crisis
Offers an interactive maps, links, photos, educational material, and multimedia pieces about Afghanistan.

Retaliation: US-led Alliance Strikes Terrorist Targets in Afghanistan
Links to a photo gallery with the first images of strikes against Afghanistan. Also gives a
comprehensive list of links that track the war on terrorism.


Goldberger, Paul. "Groundwork: How the Future of Ground Zero Is Being Resolved," New Yorker (May 20, 2002): 86-95.

Jackson, Kenneth, ed. The Encyclopedia of New York City. Yale University Press, 1995.

Langewiesche, William. "American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center," Atlantic Monthly (July/August 2002), 44-79.

Mackay, Donald. The Building of Manhattan. Harper & Row, 1987.


NGS Resources
Webber, Sara P. "Trendy in TriBeCa," National Geographic Traveler (October 2000), 38.

Buckmaster, Sheila F. "Manhattan: The New York That New Yorkers Love," National Geographic Traveler (November/December 2000), 72-94.

Putman, John. "Images of Manhattan," National Geographic (September 1981), 314-343.

White, Peter T. "The World in New York City," National Geographic (July 1964), 52-107.


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