Greek Americans mourn

New York police have cordoned off the entire area around the ruins of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, keeping away even the grief-stricken relatives of the missing. A few meters from the red and white tape reading No admittance, police, a group of Greek Americans stare at the ruins, holding lit candles. They are mourning their friends and relatives, but also the loss of the Church of Aghios Nikolaos which has endured since 1916 and was just in the shadow of the Twin Towers, only to be crushed beneath them. New York’s Greek Americans comprise one of the liveliest – and oldest – communities in what is one of the world’s largest cities. Many residents of Astoria, an area that recalls Athens, used to go to work in Manhattan every day. Between 90-100 of the city’s street vendor licenses are issued in Greek names. Nearly all of Manhattan’s hot dog vendors speak Greek and listen to Greek songs on their headphones. I’m very much afraid that some of the debris from the explosion hit the hot dog vendors, said Venetia Kyritsi, a journalist at the Greek language newspaper Proini. No one knows exactly how many Greek Americans were in the towers last Tuesday, nor how many worked in the offices on the 110 floors. The companies themselves no longer have the information, which was all lost along with the computers and data banks. No one is sure about anyone. Only the names of those whose bodies have been recognized have been recorded. Friends and relatives mourn and hope, even though several days have past. Initially there were reports of approximately 200 missing Greek Americans, a number that was reduced as the days passed. Andrew Athens, president of the World Council of Hellenes (SAE) believes it possible that the total will be nearer 20-40 Greek Americans. There shouldn’t be more, he said in a break from his repeated calls to the authorities. You can’t keep calling (Mayor Rudolph) Guiliani’s office to ask him how many Greeks are dead. We’re talking about 5,500 people killed here. You can’t ask for their ethnic origins. When people are allowed to approach the area, of course the first people to be allowed in will be the relatives of the missing, he said. Elizabeth Tzoumaka, editor in chief of Proini, has not slept for three days. Look, whatever they tell you now will be inaccurate. There is no specific center where Greek Americans report their missing. We don’t know how many dead or missing there are. Imagine that just one company, Fitzgerald Security Services, which was on floors 101-105, had 1,000 staff members, 700 of whom are missing! No one records the missing. The relatives are holding up photographs and doing the rounds of the hospitals and first-aid centers that have been set up. Only now have the Greek community organizations begun to act, and I can understand why. It was a great shock and took us all by surprise. Now there is some attempt to gather that information, but people are not very willing. Someone who is looking for a missing relative is too busy searching to worry about statistics, she said. Asked whether it was true, as some experts in Greece were saying, that Greek Americans were getting their information from Greek satellite channels, she said: What do you mean? Greek Americans have been phoning in constantly to our newspaper asking us to comment on the rubbish being broadcast by some Greek journalists and politicians on Greek channels. If you ask me, they are justified. You can’t imagine the garbage we’ve had to listen to. People, most people, that is, rant away without having any feeling for other people’s pain, she said. Worse than Pearl Harbor Andrew Athens has been on the phone from SAE’s Chicago office to officials in Washington, trying to get information. The situation is very bad. Our lives have changed for ever. And life in Europe, of course. Tomorrow nothing will be the same. This was a more serious disaster for the US than Pearl Harbor, where 2,500 people died. Here the number is at least twice that. At least (in Pearl Harbor) they were soldiers. Here we are talking about innocent people, unsuspecting citizens, ordinary people! he said. You know, a month after Pearl Harbor, I joined the US Army and fought in Africa and Europe. From what I understand, we are at war again. At war with the terrorists. If you want my opinion, we won’t see any strikes soon, he said. President George Bush has got the funds he asked for and the state is organizing itself on a new basis in order to deal with this strange enemy on a day to day basis. Everything will change. There will be an attempt to have the guilty parties arrested and handed over. And I hope those who are harboring them will hand them over, he added. Mr. Athens believes that certain liberties will be restricted. These are tough measures but they are necessary, since the attack came from within the country. And I believe that Europe will follow suit as it is certain that the terrorists were not only striking at the US. Who is to say that it isn’t Europe’s turn? Our lives have changed! That is certain, he added. Andrew Athens believes that even though Bush might not have the necessary experience, he is surrounded by experienced people, such as Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. He listens to them and that’s good, said Athens, adding that in the face of danger, Americans were all with their president. St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church fell with the falling giants The terrorist attack against the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center that killed an estimated 5,000 people also destroyed the tiny St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, located about 500 feet (150 meters) from ground zero, the center of the catastrophe, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said. On Tuesday morning, soon after the attack, Father John Romas, the church’s pastor, attempted to go to into the area but was turned back by police. On Wednesday he was permitted to visit the site to view what was left of the church, the archdiocese said in a news release on Friday. It would break your heart, Father Romas said of the devastation. It’s one thing to see it on TV, and another thing to see it in person. St. Nicholas is buried under debris. It is the worst thing. Father Romas said that, at the time of the first blast, one parishioner, Vassilios Torazanos, 50, was working in the church but rushed out of the building moments after the first jet, American Flight 11, crashed into the South Tower at 8.48 a.m. He left his car in the adjacent parking lot and ran all the way to Brooklyn, about two miles over the East River. Normally about 45 to 50 faithful (capacity for St. Nicholas) attend Divine Liturgy on Sundays, the statement said. Father Romas said his parishioners plan to rebuild their church and have established an account for anyone wanting to donate. (St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Atlantic Bank, account number 09062602, 8010 5th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11209). He also said he is trying to locate temporary space in the area to hold church services and plans to ask permission from city officials to allow him to retrieve the church’s holy relics: those of St. Nicholas, St. Katherine and St. Sava. They were kept in an ossuary on what had been the top floor of the four-story building. Greek immigrants, who were active in the area before Manhattan became the heart of international economy, established St. Nicholas Church in 1916 and purchased the structure for $25,000. It was one of two old calendar parishes under the archdiocese until 1993 when it switched to the Gregorian calendar. Among the church’s unique characteristics are its small size and its icons, which were a gift from the last czar of Russia, Nicholas II. Father Romas expressed hope he would be able to salvage some of the icons. The church also was open Wednesdays at midday, for people to light a candle and pray during their lunch breaks, to attend a Paraklisis the first Wednesday of the month, or just for spiritual contemplation. The tiny church building was constructed around 1832. It was originally a residence and later housed a tavern before the founders of the parish purchased the structure. It measured 22 feet (6.7 meters) wide in front, 20 feet, 11 inches in the back, and about 56 feet (17 meters) long. It was 35 feet (10.5 meters) tall. On three sides it was surrounded by a parking lot. Developers had offered millions of dollars to buy the church but were never accepted. The church next door, a Catholic one, gave in to temptation. And so the Church of St. Nicholas found itself in a huge parking lot, Father Romas told Kathimerini. The church has been known locally for several years for its celebration of Epiphany. Parishioners would proceed to nearby Battery Park at the south tip of Manhattan, where a diver would jump into the icy water of New York Harbor to retrieve the cross. All Greek sailors, and generally all Greeks involved with the sea, have a duty to rebuild St. Nicholas, said New Democracy Member of Parliament for Piraeus Manolis Bedeniotis.

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