Police saying death toll is 265

NEW YORK (AP) - People in the close-knit Rockaways neighborhood have spent the past two months struggling to recover from the loss of their neighbors in the World Trade Center. Then disaster struck again, this time even closer to home.

The American Airlines jetliner that crashed in the Queens enclave Monday is believed to have killed at least 265 people, police said. It was unclear how many people might have died on the ground, and Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Dunne said six to nine people in the neighborhood were missing.

``Just on the heels of one horror, another,'' said Fern Liberman, who lives two blocks from the crash site.

``We're already devastated,'' said Kim Moran, whose husband, John, was killed in the Sept. 11 trade center rescue effort and who lives 10 blocks from the crash site.

``There's still funerals here,'' Moran said. ``This is a beautiful, tight-knit neighborhood and it's just devastating.''

The neighborhood on a sandy peninsula that separates Jamaica Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, is largely Irish, Italian and Jewish. It is home to many police and firefighter families, clustered in modest, middle-class homes not far from John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Kevin Ryan, a spokesman for Rep. Anthony Weiner, said the area lost about 70 people in the Sept. 11 attack. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said he had been to about 10 funerals at a nearby church since Sept. 11.

``The idea that Rockaway was the victim of this - I mean, anyplace it happened, obviously, is awful - but it had a special significance to it,'' the mayor said.

After the crash in Rockaway Beach, Gail Allen stood outside her home in a Fire Department jacket, holding a picture of her firefighter son, Richard. He was killed at the trade center and his memorial service was held Friday at the neighborhood's St. Francis de Sales church.

Asked how she was coping, she said, ``A lot of prayers.''

Two months after the trade center attacks, ``we're still waking up and hugging each other,'' said resident Marie Rudolph. ``We haven't gotten back to normal.''

The neighborhood has held many fund-raisers, clothing drives and food drives for families of the Sept. 11 victims, said Gary Toms, associate editor of the community weekly The Wave.

``We were still trying to bury a number of our heroes,'' he said. ``This is going to compound the devastation a lot of people to deal with.''

Moran's brother-in-law, Michael Moran, 38, brought the Rockaways' grief and spirit to a national cable television audience Oct. 20 during the fund-raising Concert for New York at Madison Square Garden.

Having lost his brother and 12 colleagues in the trade center, Moran said: ``In the spirit of the Irish people, Osama bin Laden, you can kiss my royal Irish ass.''

He added: ``I live in Rockaway and this is my face.''

Moran's widowed sister-in-law, Kim, said Michael Moran was off duty at his Manhattan firehouse at the time of the crash and got a ride to the scene from police.

``I thought of my husband and I thought of his brother. I hope for Michael's sake this wasn't terrorism because he'll feel responsible,'' she said. ``He lost his brother, I lost my husband. I would hate for this to mean there will be more heartbreak here.''

Kathleen Boyle, who has lived in the neighborhood 27 years, said the community is still in mourning.

``I've been to a number of funerals,'' she said. ``I know the mothers of those boys. We all knew everybody from the stores, from church, we were all so close.''

``What can you do?'' she asked. ``You have to trust in God.''

Rudolph said she was confident the neighborhood will survive.

``We're a tight place, the Rockaways. We'll get by. We're down, we're not out.''


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