Emotional Sept. 11 families reach out to Katrina's needy: ‘It's time to give back'

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:53

    NEW YORK — Edie Lutnick can't watch images of Hurricane Katrina's devastation for very long. The memories it evokes are too painful. "How do you watch people saying that their loved ones are missing and look at pictures of missing people and not have it be reminiscent of 9/11?" said Lutnick, whose brother Gary was killed when the World Trade Center collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001. "I've had family members call me and say that they've watched this and the tears start streaming down their faces, both for the victims in New Orleans and because it reminds them what happened to them." But even as the families prepare for mourning rituals to mark the fourth anniversary of Sept. 11, they have begun outreach efforts that they say provided them comfort and crucial aid in the days after the terrorist attacks. "We realize that our pain is something that we can help heal by giving back," said Valerie McGee, whose husband, Brian McGee, died on Sept. 11. "It's time to give back." Separate family groups are in the beginning phases of relief efforts. The relatives of firefighter Stephen Siller planned to create the 9/11 Families for Katrina Relief Fund this week, said Siller's brother Frank. Siller's widow, Sarah, has already donated two, 40-foot trailers full of water to send immediately to the Gulf Coast, he said. Another group, the Coalition of 9/11 Families, may pair with one or two charitable institutions to start another relief drive. "We're going to address this with the same force and intensity as we addressed 9/11," said Lutnick. She is the director of the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, which represents more than 800 families of people who worked at the Cantor Fitzgerald brokerage in the World Trade Center, as well as some smaller firms. At least one victim's family member has already traveled to the Gulf Coast. Joe Downey, the Fire Department's battalion chief of rescue operations, is one in a 36-member team of New York emergency personnel sent to the hurricane region this week. Downey's father, deputy chief Ray Downey, was killed on Sept. 11. McGee, of Floral Park, is finding the stories of Katrina survivors looking for loved ones the hardest to take. "Families are scattered. People you can't find. Same as in New York," said McGee. "People never saw or heard from their loved ones again." McGee, one of about 400 families that belong to the WTC Family Center in Rockville Centre, said her center is starting with cash donations to the American Red Cross, and contemplating other ways to help Katrina victims. For now, she says, "money is the most important thing." Family members said the outpouring of Americans' support after Sept. 11 is inspiring them to return the kindness to Katrina victims. Others were shocked that help hadn't come more quickly to the thousands of stranded refugees in New Orleans. "I think it's really heartbreaking," said William Doyle, who lost his son, Joseph Doyle, on Sept. 11. "Unfortunately, these people aren't getting the help that the 9/11 families got." It was too early for most to compare the disasters. And because the hurricane struck so close to Sept. 11, it was too early for some to focus on others' suffering. Lutnick said she would turn her full attention to Katrina on Sept. 12. "I need to get my family through Sept. 11," she said, "and Katrina has made it harder for them."