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New York struggles to get back to business

TIMOTHY WILLIAMS, Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) – The air thick with dust and tinged with bitter smoke, a city still patching together phone lines and electricity battled to get back to business for Monday’s reopening of Wall Street.

The New York Stock Exchange and the Mercantile Exchange, as well as City Hall and other government buildings and courthouses, are to reopen Monday, even as much of lower Manhattan remains inaccessible.

”We think we’re ready for it,” Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Sunday. ”Some of it obviously … is trial and error.” Investors anxiously awaited the markets’ reopening.

Five days after two hijacked commercial jetliners brought down the World Trade Center, parts of the island’s southern tip are still without electricity or telephone service. Streets are crisscrossed with heavy utility cables and portable generators stand on sidewalks.

The Wall Street subway station is closed, and only subways on the east side of downtown Manhattan will run at all. A new ferry service will carry passengers across the East River from Brooklyn. Streets are closed to vehicles and some thoroughfares are blocked altogether.

Even so, Giuliani has made reopening the area – home to the city’s financial and government sectors – a priority. The New York Stock Exchange had a successful test Saturday of its computer and communications systems.

The computerized Nasdaq Stock Market, which doesn’t have a trading floor as the NYSE does on Wall Street, said it had also conducted a successful test of its systems.

”The life of the city goes on, and I encourage people to go about they’re lives,” said Giuliani. ”One of the best things they can do to show how strong they are, and to show how terrorists can’t cower us, is to not be cowered.”

President Bush also weighed in, saying Sunday: ”When you get back to work, work hard like you always have. … People will be amazed at how quickly we will rebuild New York.”

The NYSE was not physically damaged in the attack. But a telephone switching operation was knocked out, severing some of the communications systems used in trading. A number of investment firms suffered damage that forced them to relocate some of their operations and re-establish computer links.

A lot is at stake. About $100 billion worth of trades are conducted daily on the NYSE, Nasdaq Stock Market and American Stock Exchange, according to the Securities Industry Association. Those trades haven’t been conducted since the market closed.

Though bonds and some commodities resumed trading Thursday, this has been the stock market’s longest closure since the midst of the Depression in 1933, when the government declared a banking holiday that lasted for more than a week.

Business owners and residents are concerned that the tens of thousands of people returning to work could create chaos in a fragile situation.

”I don’t know how much this place can take,” said Elizabeth Hart, who lives on John Street, three blocks from where the World Trade Center stood. ”There’s no power, it smells bad. The last thing we need is crowds going to work down here.”

Despite Giuliani’s optimism, some business owners say they may need days, even weeks, to prepare.

”I don’t think it’s going to be possible. I don’t know how they say they can open,” said Marek Zieba, the superintendent of an apartment building on Ann Street. ”It’s good for the people, but I don’t think they can open.”

Dennis Goin, president of the Goin & Co. brokerage firm, is so concerned about potential chaos Monday morning that he plans to sleep inside his company’s office, just down the street from the NYSE building.

Goin’s firm usually trades on the floor of the American Stock Exchange, which was left without electricity and will temporarily operate out of the New York exchange.

Besides the problems with infrastructure, Goin said the return to work is likely to be emotionally searing as well – on Monday and beyond.

”It will be a long time before people think of it as business as usual, because you might be calling to people … who you might call once a month, and when you place that call, you might be told that Joe isn’t here anymore,” he said.

New York Stock Exchange: http://www.nyse.com

New York Mercantile Exchange: http://www.nymex.com