OLDEST IRISH AMERICAN NEWSPAPER IN USA, ESTABLISHED IN 1928
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Editorial: Tragedy calls

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

A photo on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Post tells a powerful story. It shows eight men working feverishly to pull hoses from a fire truck. Flames rage in the near background. The men clearly know this routine. They betray no fear; in fact, none appear to be paying even a smidgen of attention to the fire. All of them are dressed in street clothes.

Belle Harbor, a suburban-like enclave in the Rockaway section of Queens, is home to many New York City firemen, police officers and emergency personnel. When a fully loaded American Airlines Airbus A-300 plunged from the sky Monday morning, moments after taking off from nearby JFK Airport, it devastated their community. The men, many of them off-duty, responded instinctively. They rushed to the scene and went to work. Hence the photo.

Belle Harbor, once largely a summer destination, has longstanding ties to the Irish, Italian and Jewish communities in New York City. Nearby Breezy Point, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, has the highest concentration of people who identify themselves as Irish in the entire U.S. It was into this area of the Rockaways that tragedy struck for a second time Monday morning. The first was Sept. 11.

Indeed, it is believed that the neighborhood lost as many as 90 residents in the World Trade Center disaster, far more than any single part of the city or its environs. Many were fireman and police officers who, much like the men in the Post photo, acted without regard to their personal safety, choosing instead to rush into the towers in an effort to rescue people before the buildings collapsed. Others who died worked for companies in the complex, most notably for the bond trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald. The local parish, St. Francis de Sales, only two blocks from the site of Monday’s crash, had held at least 40 funerals in the aftermath of the terror attack. Mayor Giuliani estimated that he had attended 10 funerals at the church since Sept. 11.

Now, sadly, this beleaguered community finds itself at ground zero of a new tragedy. As the Echo went to press Tuesday, it was as yet unclear how many people died in Monday’s crash, though it is believed that more than 260 perished. Most of the victims were Dominican, the passengers and crew of a plane headed for Santo Domingo. Many of them lived in Manhattan’s Washington Heights community, which holds for Dominicans the same distinction Breezy Point does for the Irish.

Some, no doubt, died on the ground as well. There are reports that only five people are missing, which seems miraculous when one considers that several houses were destroyed, others badly damaged, and that children were home from school for Veterans Day. But no one really knows yet. Still, as the hours pass, hope grows that Belle Harbor itself was spared a large loss of life.

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There is, nevertheless, a great sadness in the land. Sadness for the terrible loss of life, for the families of the victims, for the communities of Washington Heights and Belle Harbor, and for a city that has suffered too much.

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