— -- Victims of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks will get at least $500,000 in federal aid, in addition to money from private charities, the government announced; the FBI is advising people to keep up their guard over the holiday season, saying there is an ongoing potential for terrorist attacks; a statue of a common man at Ground Zero has taken on symbolic value, as it survived the collapse of the World Trade Center.
Families and Survivors Can Apply for Fed. Aid
W A S H I N G T O N, Dec. 20 — The victims' families and survivors of theSept. 11 terrorist attacks can begin applying for federal aidFriday and will be eligible for at least $500,000 each in aid, theJustice Department announced today. Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer named to oversee the federalvictims' money, said offices would open Friday in New York andWashington to begin taking applications, and that eligibleAmericans could receive a $50,000 advance quickly. "We do not want to drag our feet with red tape andbureaucracy," Feinberg said, noting he wants money distributedwithin 120 days of receiving applications. Feinberg said he has received input on the fund from manysources, but singled out comments from victims' families. "They have given me more valuable input than anybody, and I amdeeply appreciative," he said. According to the rules, Feinberg will develop a method forcalculating how much victims and families should get to ensure that"similarly situated claimants should not receive dramaticallydifferent treatment." While families can receive more than $500,000 depending on theircircumstances, the rules make clear that families of those whoearned high wages wouldn't necessarily receive more than familiesof victims who earned modest wages. "A claimant should not assume that he or she will receive anaward greater than the presumed award simply because the victim hadan income that exceeded the income for the 98th percentile," therules say. Life insurance and pension fund payments would be subtractedfrom the awards, but not charitable contributions. The rules do not mention whether same sex partners of victimsare eligible. David Smith of Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian advocacygroup, said it appears same-sex partners could apply but whetherthey would be eligible to receive awards would depend on a numberof factors, including whether domestic partner laws in the stateswhere the partner resides. Under the program, much of Theresa Riccaradelli's economicfuture rests with Feinberg, who will ultimately have the final sayin how much each family touched by the tragedy receives. "It's the first step in making some big decisions,"Riccaradelli said. Feinberg said aid given to families through charitableorganizations will not be counted for or against the federal aid. "Charity will be considered separate," Feinberg said. The fund was set up in September as part of the $15 billionairline bailout bill. Its eventual size will be determined by thenumber of families that apply and the size of their awards. The law establishing the fund makes clear that a portion of theaward must be based on the victim's income and earning potential.That ranges from the millions of dollars earned by some bondtraders to the far smaller salaries of janitors and other low-wageworkers. The "non-economic" portion of the assistance, which includespain and suffering, offers more flexibility to equalize payments,Feinberg has indicated. But a half-dozen family members who met with Feinberg asrecently as this week disagreed over the figures he provided tothem. For the "non-economic" portion of the award, the minimumranged from $100,000 to $250,000, they said. That amount could beadjusted upward to account for dependent children, they said. Feinberg said a hypothetical 41-year-old victim with twochildren who made $80,000 per year could receive over $1.5 millionin aid from the government. Some family members said that the numbers they heard fromFeinberg so far had not been encouraging and might encourage themto seek redress in the courts instead. The some 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks mayseek an award from the fund only if they forfeit their right to sueanyone for damages. They cannot do both. The fund is authorized to provide compensation for personalinjury or death, not to compensate for lost physical property, likebusinesses and inventory.
— The Associated Press
FBI Tells America to Keep Watch
W A S H I N G T O N, Dec. 20 — The FBI is advising Amerricans to continue to be on the alert throughout the holiday season for the possibility of new terrorist attacks.
"Due to the continuing potential for terrorist attacks in the United States, the FBI is continuing its terrorist threat advisory for the period from Monday, 12/17/2001, to Wednesday, 01/02/2002," the FBI Awareness of National Security Issues and Response said in a statement.
The statement urged people to remain vigilant and to "immediately notify the FBI of any unusual or suspicious activity."
Fanfare for Common Man: Sept. 11 Makes Ordinary Statue Symbolic
H A M I L T O N T O W N S H I P, N.J., Dec. 20 — When the bronze figure first settled on a Lower Manhattan bench in the shadow of the World Trade Center towers, briefcase open, files in hand, he was notable only for his ability to fade into the background.
But Sept. 11 made him into something else: He's a survivor.
Thousands of people and priceless works of art perished in the terror attacks on the World Trade Center. A famous photo taken that day shows the statue "Double Check" coated in dust — but unscathed amid the ruins.
Since then, firefighters, paramedics and police officers haveleft flowers, flags, candles and hard hats for the bronze man whostill resides in the area now known as Ground Zero.
"He has been their friend," sculptor J. Seward Johnson ofHamilton Township told The Times of Trenton.
Johnson wants to cast some of the offerings in bronze and weldthem to the statue, making them a permanent part of the work, whichhe hopes will be allowed to remain right where it is.
He has taken several of the mementos home, placing them around acopy of the statue that resides in his studio. But he has notremoved the original, fearing "Double Check" will not be allowedto return.
Said Johnson: "I'm passionate about his right to be there."
— The Associated Press
Widow of Hijacked Plane Passenger Sues United Airlines
D E R R Y, N. H., Dec. 20 — A New Hampshire woman whose husband died aboard United Airlines Flight 175 sued the airline today,alleging company negligence led to the hijacking.
Ellen Mariani of Derry filed the lawsuit in the U.S. DistrictCourt for the southern district of New York.
Mariani is the widow of Louis "Neil" Mariani, 58, a passengeron the second plane flown into the World Trade Center.
The couple were taking separate flights to California to attendthe wedding of Ellen Mariani's daughter.
Initially, Neil Mariani planned to stay home while his wifeattended the wedding, thinking it was too expensive for both ofthem to go. But Ellen Mariani held yard sales and made enough moneyto buy her husband a surprise ticket to see his stepdaughter walkdown the aisle.
Mariani's lawyer said the airlines should have stopped thehijackers from boarding the plane.
"It was the duty of United Airlines to exercise the highestdegree of care for the safety and security of its passengers," DonNolan of Chicago said in a statement.
Nolan said Mariani has decided not to apply for money from thefederal Victim's Compensation Fund.
"Mrs. Mariani doesn't want the taxpayers' money," he said."She wants her day in court with United Airlines."
A news release from the Chicago lawyer for Mariani said nothingabout compensation.
United Airlines, located in Chicago, could not be reached for comment.
— The Associated Press
Lady Liberty Reopened to Visitors
N E W Y O R K, Dec. 20 — Boatloads of tourists returned to Liberty Island this morning as the icon of American freedom reopened forthe first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
John Delano, 9, of Richmond, Va., was the first to set foot onthe island home of the Statue of Liberty today, followedquickly by his 12-year-old brother, Philip.
Their father, Chip, said the family decided to take theirvacation in New York this year after the attack on the World TradeCenter. "We told [the boys] this was the time," Delano said.
John was impressed by 115-year-old Lady Liberty, although hewasn't able to go to the top of the statue. "There's a lot moredetail when you're this close," he said.
Because of security concerns, visitors won't be able to goinside the statue at least until next year, according to theNational Park Service. And visitors were screened before they gotonto the boats.
Ellis Island, where thousands of immigrants entered the UnitedStates during the past century, also reopened today. The twoislands are just across New York Harbor from lower Manhattan wherethe trade center's twin towers stood.
Firefighter Ron Parker was on the first boat across the harbor,taking a break from his work at Ground Zero. Wearing hisfirefighter's jacket and helmet, he knelt near the Statue ofLiberty and said a silent prayer.
"I needed to come down here," he said.
Boats departed from Battery Park, in lower Manhattan, andLiberty State Park, in New Jersey, about 9 a.m.
Raymond Manzo of Hackettstown, N.J., arrived at Liberty StatePark hours early.
"We just assume everything is going to be there all the time,and as we see now with the World Trade Center — I just find thatupsetting," he said.
Before boarding the boats, visitors had to pass through metaldetectors, and packages and backpacks were banned. National ParkService Director Fran Mainella said the screening will prevent anydangerous items from being brought onto the islands.
"Even before Sept. 11, we probably should have been doing that.But we've added that now, so everyone can feel comfortable thateverything is secure when they get over here," Mainella said. Shesaid there will probably be additional screening when the interiorof the statue is reopened to visitors.
Shortly before the first group of tourists departed for thetrip, a ceremonial U.S. flag was raised on Liberty Island, one solarge it took four National Park Service employees to raise it.
One of the boats ferrying visitors, the Miss New Jersey, soldgifts at its concession stand including a book called "History ofthe World Trade Center 1973-2001" and key chains, magnets and snowglobes featuring the twin towers.
Several other National Park Service sites in the city wereclosed Sept. 11, either because they were close to the World TradeCenter attack or were used for staging of work crews. All havereopened.
— The Associated Press
Holiday Season Not So Bright for New York Businesses
N E W Y O R K, Dec. 20 — The holiday season that is so crucial to NewYork's $25 billion tourism industry is looking grim, despite a hostof promotions and a late boost from patriotic visitors.
Hotel occupancy this month is expected to be down 8 percentagepoints from last December. Travel into metropolitan airports isprojected to be off 20 percent over the holidays. Broadway ticketsales are down 15 percent.
Visitors who have shown up did so much later in the season thanusual.
"People weren't in a planning mode, whether it was makingreservations for a restaurant or a hotel or buying tickets for aBroadway show," said Jed Bernstein, president of the League ofAmerican Theaters and Producers.
College student Theresa Barbadore, 22, said her family tookadvantage of discount deals and traveled by train from Braintree,Mass., to spend two nights in the city, shop and see the Rockettesat Radio City Music Hall.
"The best thing anyone could do for the city is support it bycoming in," she said.
The Barbadore family is typical of the type of "patriotic"visitors New York has attracted since the Sept. 11 attack on theWorld Trade Center, said Cristyne Nicholas, president and chiefexecutive of NYC & Company, the city's tourism bureau.
Many tourists have come from nearby states like New Jersey andConnecticut, or from upstate New York. But Nicholas said suchvisits do not bring nearly as much money to the city because thetrips are shorter and might not involve a hotel stay.
Hotel occupancy rates for December are forecast at 70 percent,down from 78 percent last year, said Joseph Spinnato, president ofthe Hotel Association of New York City.
For an industry that saw occupancy rates drop by nearly half inthe weeks immediately after Sept. 11, the season has been busierthan anticipated, Spinnato said.
But many hotels had to offer steep discounts to attract tourists. At the Tribeca Grand and SoHo Grand, some deluxe rooms were almost $100 cheaper than last year.
A month after the attacks, Nicholas told Congress that NewYork's 37 million annual visitors support 282,000 city jobs. Lastyear, tourism generated nearly $1 billion in city taxes and morethan $2 billion for state and federal coffers.
Politicians, hotel owners and entertainment venue operators havescrambled to put together discount packages and marketing campaignsto bolster holiday tourism. A "Freedom Package" put together byNYC & Company links hotels, Broadway shows and restaurants for aslittle as $157 a night. About 9,700 packages have been sold so far.
Still, Broadway shows are suffering compared with last year'srecord levels. For the last three weeks, ticket sales and grosseshave been running about 15 percent below last year, Bernstein said.Eight shows plan to close after Jan. 1, compared with about six inprevious years.
Tickets to the traditional holiday favorite, the New York CityBallet's production of The Nutcracker, are lagging.
Nicholas said the city must recapture the tourists who fly infrom around the United States and from overseas.
"Folks who can take the bus, train or their car into the cityhave been propping us up for the last two months," she said. "NewYorkers who hadn't seen a Broadway show in a year or two made it anobligation to see a show."
That helps in the short term, she said, but "that can't besustained."
— The Associated Press