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Despite tragedy, ‘we Greeks will never give up’

Nothing is the same. New York might be forced to get back to normal, but a large part of it that only 10 days ago formed its heart is still blocked off. The office of Dimos Siokis, president of the Federation of Greek-American Organizations, is six blocks away from the ruined towers, an area now pervaded by a heavy, unbearable smell – odors of charred metal and, perhaps, decomposing bodies. Eighty percent of the people who pass by or work near the ruins wear face masks, said the president of an organization of Greeks from Kastoria, who studied economics while working at one of Manhattan’s many furriers. There aren’t many of those left now, as Americans don’t buy furs anymore. Those who do prefer to buy from China where labor is cheaper. After the first big shock, when we realized that it had really happened, we moved fast. We opened an account at the Atlantic Bank, a subsidiary of the National Bank, with the participation of all the Greek associations. During the first three days we collected $82,000. All 186 Greek associations have been mobilized and we are expected to collect quite a large sum of money for the victims’ families, he said. Saturday afternoon Archbishop Demetrios officiated at a service at Astoria’s Aghia Aikaterini church, followed by a candlelight procession to the local fire station in memory of all victims and as a tribute to the fire brigade. Siokis believes that New York’s Greek Americans will mourn about 40 victims. You know, our lives have changed radically. You only see angry, sad and melancholy faces. The truth is that Americans have never experienced anything like this. They are very afraid. They have lost that carefree feeling – the product of security and confidence – that was their trademark. I would like to say how sorry I am about what I am seeing on the Greek television channels. You cannot compare or equate the case of Serbia and Kosovo with the crime at the Twin Towers. There the countries were at war. This was a slaughter of innocents. Siokis also talked about the economic catastrophe caused by the attack, the firing of 20,000 workers at American Airlines and another 30,000 at Boeing, the huge damage sustained by all airlines, travel agencies and insurance companies. The government is now talking about handing out loans and grants to keep airlines and insurance companies from going bankrupt. The former furrier is now a stock market analyst. The terrorists wanted the strike to result in human victims and an economic catastrophe. They succeeded in doing the first. We will do everything to stop them achieving their second goal, he said. Asked whether he thought the USA would retaliate soon, he said: It is what people want. The terrorists have to be found and made to pay. It is the people’s will. One wonders if New York will ever be the same again. Never. The wounds will take many years to heal. The ruins might be cleared within three months, but life will never be as it was. We Greeks, who never give up, will rebuild Aghios Nikolaos in Manhattan. We have opened a special bank account for the purpose. As soon as the debris is cleared, we will begin. We are already talking to two contractors, he said. Help for victims’ relatives The Archbishopric has also been very active. In a meeting of clerics chaired by Archbishop Demetrios, it was decided to set up a group of priests to offer support to the relatives of victims as well as dissipate any anger against American Muslims. They also discussed how to hold funeral services for victims whose bodies will never be found. Already the 100 (senior members) of the Archbishopric have collected $500,000 for relatives. The Archbishopric has also agreed to proposals by Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos for a telemarathon to collect money, and Piraeus Mayor Christos Agrapidis to open a special account for victims of terrorists. The archbishop was pleased to get a call from PASOK deputy Manolis Bedeniotis, who informed him of the positive response from the Greek merchant marine sector to collect donations to help rebuild the church of Aghios Nikolaos, the patron saint of seamen. Demetrios has also instructed parish priests to find out just how many Greeks are missing. But an Archbishopric official said he believed the authorities knew how many people were missing but did not want to announce such a large number so as not to spread panic.