'Ground Zero' heroes

First published in News

THREE friends from East Lancashire today revealed their remarkable story of hope and generosity which has emerged from the wreckage of the World Trade Centre.

And today, the mayor of New York heaped praise on the likes of Louise Demaine, Mick Baldwin and Lou Goulding, for helping the city become a stronger place in the wake of September 11.

Louise, from Darwen, and Mick, of Rishton, work in New York's only British fish and chip shop in Greenwich Village, around a mile away from Ground Zero. Mick's girlfriend, Lou Goulding, formerly of Accrington and Oswaldtwistle, works in the neighbouring tea shop.

In the days after the disaster on September 11, Louise and Michael learnt that one of the regulars to the chip shop, which is called A Salt and Battery, has been among those to have been killed.

NYPD sixth precinct policeman James Leahy, along with his colleagues, often used to go into the chip shop for lunch -- and as soon as they heard about his death, the friends decided they had to do something to help.

They took it in turns to sit outside the chip shop with an empty, upturned water-cooler bottle which gradually filled up with cash donated by generous passers-by.

It took just two days to fill -- raising $5,000 which has now been handed over to a police officer Leahy's family.

Louise, who lived in Cypress Street, Darwen, before moving out to America 15 years ago, said: "I just couldn't believe what had happened.

"There were several people we knew who could have been affected.

"As well as the firemen and the police, we also used to make deliveries to the World Trade Centre and we really thought those guys could be in there when it came down.

"One of their staff actually made the point of coming in to say they were OK but then we found out about James, and it broke my heart.

"He used to come in here quite a lot with the other policemen and to hear that he had died upset us all so much.

"Although we were so close to the disaster, it really brought it home and we knew we had to do something.

"To us, it wasn't much, but it was just a case of being involved."

The chip shop is close to St Vincent's Hospital, where the injured were brought after the towers were hit.

Michael, who moved to America around 18 months ago and used to live in Somerset Drive, Rishton, prepared fish and chips for the doctors and recovery workers which were taken in large vats to the site.

He added: "We aren't heroes, we didn't do anything special. The whole incident brought New York together and this was the best way we could help.

"It was a case of just being able to do something."

Michael's apartment is very close to the Twin Towers site.

He said: "If they had toppled over rather than crashed down, my home could have been hit.

"It's only when people here think about it that it sinks in and, in a way, it has made New York a closer-knit place to be."

Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, who wrote to the Mayor of Blackburn with Darwen to thank him for the borough's book of condolence last month, has praised the actions of people like Louise, Michael and Lou.

He said: "I have always had full confidence in the people of this City, and that confidence has risen even higher as I have watched the behavior of New Yorkers in the wake of this tragedy."

"They almost immediately formed long lines to donate blood; they have made generous corporate and individual donations of money and supplies; they have offered welcome encouragement and solace to the relatives of the missing and to our exhausted rescue workers.

"We are a united City, and I have never been so proud to be a New Yorker. "

People in Lancashire raised more than £50,000 for an appeal set up by Lancashire Fire and Rescue to help their colleagues in America.

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