Skip to Content

After 9/11, New Yorkers are alive by joining together. Cover story, Southern People Weekly, China

New York catches most of the heat in August. We are connecting with Tony Carnes and his assistant Melissa Kimiadi at 9:00am at the Starbucks on 125th Street. Today’s plan is to visit a few Harlem streets to investigate the situation of religious sites.

By Print Preview

Southern People Weekly

At the "9/11 Memorial," photos of the victims


New York alive or dead

10 years ago, the lives of New Yorkers were at the intersection with "9 • 11" as a red line. Their lives  changed forever.

Staff reporters Wang Qi Zhang Huan and Jiang Xiaoming from New York




September 11, 2001 morning, the Japanese American architect Minoru Yamasaki, who designed the twin towers, was, as usual, working and visiting. The building's windows are only 46 cm wide, reflecting the designer's fear of heights and for the need for the office staff to feel safe. As a landmark, the twin towers enjoyed the same fate that the Eiffel Tower did in Paris, in the eyes of cynical New Yorkers. One guidebook  describe the twin towers: "All the best scenery of the towers must be on the top floor, because only there you cannot see the twin towers themselves."

On the floors of 106 and 107, "Windows on the World" restaurant in 2000 became the most profitable restaurant in the United States despite just adequate food. When it rained, you could feel the cloud.

Shortly after 8:30, the New York Port Authority office worker Lila Speciner was holding a takeout coffee going to her office on the 88th Floor in the North Tower. The night before the Monday Night Football game featured the New York Giants playing the Denver Broncos. So, at this time in the morning the office had only  a few people, Lila was sipping coffee looking out the window at the cloudless sky.

Suddenly, there was a burst of a huge shock, it felt like a train had rushed at full speed into the building. Subsequently, the people in the building of people learned through the television news that this was the result of a 124 ton Boeing 767 aircraft, carrying 373 cubic meters of fuel, going almost 600 miles per hour. After the crash, the temperature of the flames went up to 2000 degrees.

Lila saw smoke emerging. At first, she suspected an earthquake, and she began to look with her colleagues for the source of the smoke. At this time, a man ran down the upstairs shouting loudly: "the building was a hit, escape quickly!" The man's name was Frank DeMartini. Lila cannot forget his name for if were not for him, maybe the entire office staff would have followed will followed the demise of the tower.

Together, they took the stairs to the 78th floor, which is the transfer floor. The 78th floor elevator was locked. Lila started to walk down the stairs, one hand on the shoulders of the person in front of her, the way a blind man might make his way. She occasionally heard hear someone screaming; others were crying non-stop. But no one pushed and jumped the queue.

On the lower floors, teams of young firefighters, toting seventy-pounds of equipment, were constantly moving up. The scene was engraved in the mind of Lila.

Lila now serves as a volunteer tour guide at the World Trade Center site. She tells her story. This is healing for her.


Picture Southern Peoples Weekly

Tony Carnes is attempting to record all the religious sites of the New York. He was not merely making a record, but through the web magazine A Journey through NYC religions to help people of different ethnic groups and faiths to get along better in the city.

The Religious Walker

New York catches most of the heat in August. We are connecting with Tony Carnes and his assistant Melissa Kimiadi at 9:00am at the Starbucks on 125th Street. Today’s plan is to visit a few Harlem streets to investigate the situation of religious sites.

Tony is a well-known senior correspondent of the American religious magazine Christianity Today, but he attracts us by doing one thing. He has formed a team to investigate all the religious sites in New York City. Their reporting and analysis appears on their website A Journey through NYC religions.

We moved along Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard Street. In the summer morning, the streets are lazy. From time to time we see African Americans sitting together to chat. Harlem is the main gathering area of African Americans in New York.

Since the weather is very hot, it did not take long before we began to sweat. In this work you cannot drive to make your visits but you must rely on a step by step measurement of the trip with your feet. “Tony, Why do we have to do this very curious thing? Is it not time-consuming?”

After Hurricane Katrina, Sheri Fink wrote an in-depth report on the web which received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-for in-depth investigation. The article included a picture that Tony had taken. This project lead Tony to wonder if the web might be better way for doing religion news coverage.

Beginning last year, he started the project. The whole team has already made tens of thousands of pictures and interviewed dozens of imams. In New York’s history, there has never been anyone like him to so seriously investigate religious sites. Tony introduced last year an extensive investigation of Muslims in New York. This is a bit of a sensitive topic. New York Muslim leader Daisy Kahn tells us, until today, the gap between Muslims and the outside world is still lingering.

Tony tried to break down this barrier. To do that he traveled to New York's five boroughs to find for the first time the specific number of mosques throughout New York - 175.The city’s official figures, since 1999, is vaguely put as more than a hundred.

On this day Thursday, many churches have no one at home. We went to a big church, but Tony could not gain an in-depth interview. This time he was determined to try their luck again. He strolled down to the church and circled it. Unfortunately, the church leader is out.

"Is this kind of thing common?" we asked Tony. He shook his shoulder and said it is best to come on Sunday, but New York is too large to go to the religious site only on Saturday or Sunday.

At the church is the entrance stood an African American man. He noticed us. He is called Gus. He is 81 years old and the chair of the deacons. His looks are reminiscent of Morgan Freeman.

Tony expressed great interest and chatted with the man about religious topics. But apparently, the deacon was more interested in our Asian faces. Gus said: "God has many names, the color does not matter. If you feel scared, you go to your God. Although there had been a mess of a day in Harlem, I was not afraid, because I knew God was with me."

He was referring to the 1977 blackout that led to the Harlem riots, when even pastors and priests had to have a shotgun hidden under the table, because every Sunday, someone might plunder a church of its offering from the faithful. In those days the local police announced their presence by wearing T-shirts that read "Killing zZone" (after the movie The Killing Fields).

Tony was born in the southern U.S. state of Texas in a small town. He also studied at the University of Texas. In his childhood, the whole town had not one Chinese or Chinese restaurant. But now the town has a lot more Chinese, Chinese restaurants have sprung up, and he married a second-generation Chinese immigrants.

In secondary school, he liked to street race and on Sunday he often secretly slipped out from school to an abandoned airbase to see drag racing. And he liked to surf. After that, he went to Europe to study philosophy, which he felt was the ultimate thinking man's thing. In the 1980s China had just opened up, so he went to China.

Going around in a circle, he returned to New York, living in Harlem on 163rd Street where the street people used pocket guns and set buildings on fire. He felt that in New York the power of religion was weak.

On September 8, 2001, Tony was with two Chinese agents at a restaurant across from the Pentagon for dinner. They were surprised that even civil aircraft flew before landing so close to the White House and the Pentagon. He said: "Terrorists need only a touch of the wrist, the plane would hit the target directly."

September 11 was his birthday. Tony was at home reading the morning newspaper and planning to relax. 9:01, a federal officer called him: "Quick turn on your TV, I got to go!" Turning on the TV, he saw the plane crashing into the building’s frame. As he reported on the disaster, Tony's face and lips were in a state of paralysis. When a reporter asked about his reaction, he said it seems like the smell from the Beijing Babaoshan Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery crematorium wafting smell - in China, he had lived in that vicinity.

But Tony has a typical American movie character outlook, always an optimist. He lives in Queens, using the older Nokia phones.

This optimist's personality has always won him friends. He looks sincerely at the other person who feels very warm. On a Muslim holiday, he, Melissa and two volunteers went to visit a big mosque. A reporter had never been allowed at the mosque. Melissa was afraid because she did not wear a veil. However, the Muslims allowed the reporters to be the first ones to record this Muslim festival in New York.

Tony is not just a simple recorder. As a journalist, he has a lot of work experience and discernment. Tony reported on a guy who used the name of the church to get money. He did investigative reporting to bring it to light. The stories won awards and were highly praised by other journalists.

He was in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang, and he knew the Chinese reporter Liu Binyan. He knows that in China the life of the reporter is not easy, but he was curious why so few Chinese correspondents reported religion."In fact, religion is part of the culture of each country," he said.

Every time he sees a clergy, or religious premise, Tony will ask other four standard questions, including "If you are the mayor, how would you change New York."

“Why ask this question?, we asked. Tony said that from their answers it can be seen whether these people’s interest is mainly confined to their own religion, or they have an interest in the community and the city. Whether they have a public interest.

We came to the center of a very large church; there is also a church educational institution. This is the focus of today's visit. Tony found a responsible person, carefully wrote down all aspects of the church.

When we have completed all this, it is 3:00 pm. Melissa suggested that we eat lunch. She is 25 years old, born in Indonesia, with Indonesian, Chinese, Dutch descent, and a Catholic background. However, at this age for a Chinese girl, her parents are urging her hurry up and to get married. She said that now the work is of great value, would like to try to do it.

For their work, Tony never fails to write back to people who send him questions. A Moroccan said he saw the website and was very excited, because he found out that in preparing to come to New York that he could find a lot of mosques and find someone to talk to.

Tony observed, “In New York, we can be a help to him; isn’t this very good?"

Signup for Journey newsletter!

Privacy by SafeUnsubscribe



Firefighter and rescuer Vincent Williams became a pastor after 9/11


Harley-Davidson Pastor at Ground Zero


Pastor Richard Del Rio and his son Jeremy


Southern People Weekly is the largest weekly magazine in China. The article also covers:  "Old Cloth and Old Lin: residents near Ground Zero," and "Past and Future."

Signup for Journey newsletter!

Privacy by SafeUnsubscribe
  • thanks for caring for NYC.

  • We're a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your site has given us a lot of ideas. Grateful!

  • Hi i am kevin, its my first time to comment. I really like this website. Thanks!

  • Future-orientation is our tradition.

  • It's the best time to make some plans for the longer term!

  • I am sure this piece of writing has touched many. thanks

  • Thanks!

  • The writing on this site is clear. Thanks.

  • I like it when individuals come together and share ideas.

    Great website, continue the good work!

  • What a sweet report - Chinese reporters who "get it" !!! Amazing work you are doing !!!

Sign up for Journey newsletter!

Privacy by SafeUnsubscribe

Upcoming Features