Firefighters in New Orleans, Mississippi Remember Another American Tragedy - 9/11

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Firefighters from New York, New Orleans and departments nationwide gathered Sunday in this city wrecked by a hurricane and flooding to remember those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks four years ago.

The firefighters helping with the relief effort assembled around a makeshift memorial for their 343 fallen New York comrades. ''Never Forget,'' it read.

Michael Weinlein, assistant chief of operations for the Fire Department of New York, said he was happy to be able to help New Orleans firefighters the way they helped after 9/11.

''Only those who have experienced tragedy can understand the look in the eyes of the New Orleans firefighters when we arrived. We feel your pain and frustration, but I promise you, from personal experience, you will heal,'' he said.

New York's Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said Sunday his firefighters are ''doing what this department does best, and that is saving lives.''

''An entire city has been virtually destroyed ... but four years later, we are in a position to respond with the same generosity of spirit which was shown to us,'' he said at a fire department memorial service in Brooklyn.

At the New Orleans remembrance, the FDNY accepted the gift of a bell from a nearby church whose steeple was destroyed in the storm. And the fire department from Montgomery County, Md., gave New York firefighters a flag that flew over the Pentagon after the terrorist attacks. It has now been signed by members of the New Orleans Fire Department.

New York firefighter Eddie D'Avanzo, who was wearing a T-shirt commemorating a colleague killed on 9/11, said coming to New Orleans was the right thing to do.

''They helped us out, and I felt like I would not want to be any other place than here helping,'' D'Avanzo said.

New Orleans Fire Capt. Mike Donaldson said he is overwhelmed by what he's seen and the aid that's flowed into the city. But comparisons to Sept. 11 are difficult, he said.

''A loss of life is different. These guys in New York lost their own. It's a lot different than just losing your home,'' said Donaldson, whose home is standing but damaged.

Even as firefighters were commemorating the Sept. 11 losses, the work in New Orleans continued.

In the middle of the ceremony, two calls for help came in, forcing at least two engines to depart.

In Mississippi, on 9/11, Emergency Workers Pause Before Returning to Own Disaster

Associated Press Writer

BILOXI, Miss. (AP) -- Emergency workers from across the nation paused Sunday on Mississippi's hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast to remember those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, then returned to the gruesome task of searching for people who may have perished in Hurricane Katrina.

A morning Mass drew firefighters, police and other rescue workers fresh from a search of rubble that litters the city's downtown, including a firefighting team from Atlanta, state police from Indiana and two retired New York firefighters.

Fighting tears, retired New York firefighter Johnny Seiler said he didn't want the recognition as parishioners at the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin applauded the police and firefighters attending the special service.

''We just want to help any way we can,'' Seiler said. ''To me, this is payback for what the people of the South did for us.''

Some attended in heavy firefighter boots. Others came in sweat-stained uniforms.

Retired New York firefighter Chris Edwards, who wore an FDNY T-shirt to the special service, urged a group of Biloxi firefighters to stay strong.

''It's going to take years to get this back, but just do it,'' he said.

After singing ''The Star-Spangled Banner'' and ''America the Beautiful,'' firefighters delivered the communion bread and wine to the front of the cathedral, which received only a broken window in the hurricane. Bishop Thomas Rodi thanked the emergency workers for their heroic work in the two weeks since Katrina slammed the Gulf coast Aug. 29.

For the local emergency workers, honoring their New York comrades while dealing with their own destruction was particularly important.

''Now we can relate,'' said Deputy Biloxi Fire Chief Kirk Noffsinger.

Mississippi's death toll stood at 214 Sunday and is expected to go higher because rescue efforts have given way to recovering the remaining dead buried under tons of rubble.

Two weeks after Katrina splintered homes and businesses throughout Mississippi's 90-mile coastline, some emergency workers are losing the adrenaline that has sustained their effort, said Biloxi Fire Chaplain John Jennings. Only now are some of them starting to sense the enormity of what has happened and feel the strain of the effort to respond.

For them, the Sept. 11 memorial service was a morale booster of sorts, on a day that has become sacred to firefighters.

''It's important we keep touching back to why we do this job in the first place,'' Jennings said.

While firefighters in Biloxi and across the nation remembered Sept. 11, there was little talk of the significance of the day in Waveland, where residents began lining up early -- many for the second or third time -- at the Federal Emergency Management Agency center in what was left of the Kmart shopping center.

As the FEMA officials extended plastic fences to accommodate the growing crowd, many residents said they had forgotten it was the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. There were more pressing concerns here, in one of Mississippi's most devastated towns.

''We've got so much going on,'' said Albert Weiss, an elderly heart attack survivor who waited in the heat, a tank of oxygen at his side as he gripped a walker. His home was destroyed, he said, and Sunday was his second two-hour trip from his Baton Rouge, La., refuge to visit FEMA.

With the temperature approaching 90 degrees, the wait was hot -- especially for people who have been without power to run fans or air conditioning for two weeks. Statewide, about 73,000 homes and businesses remain without power, mostly in rural areas, but there are thousands more buildings that are too damaged for workers to reconnect service.

Some in the FEMA line in Waveland talked about the heat Sunday, and others commiserated about lost property and missing pets.

''I saved my cat,'' one woman said, gratefully.

''I saved the dog but lost the cats,'' another woman said, waiting in another line. ''Cats, heck, I don't even know where my bathtub is.''

There was no moment of silence in Waveland on Sunday morning. People picked through roadside donation centers for bleach, diapers and toys to occupy their children.

The 3rd Battalion of the 124th Infantry of the Florida National Guard was planning a small service Sunday night for the estimated 600 soldiers patrolling the town.

''Right now, in this community, I think this situation is first on everybody's mind,'' said Capt. Chris Buckley. ''But I think around the country, people still think about it. It's important. It's like Memorial Day.''

Associated Press reporter Matt Apuzzo in Waveland contributed to this report.