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Guiliani: Tragedy's reassuring face, Act II

In a time of trauma and a transition in government, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani found himself in a familiar position Monday, rushing to the site of another emergency where he comforted families of survivors, took charge of the city's response to the crisis and consoled New Yorkers alarmed that their city might once again be the target of a terrorist attack.

As Giuliani moved quickly from City Hall to the Queens neighborhood where an American Airlines Airbus A300 jetliner plunged to earth in an explosive crash, his successor _ Michael Bloomberg, elected to office just six days ago _ took in this stark reminder of what he faces when he becomes mayor in less than six weeks.

After some initial discussion among his aides about what to do, the mayor-elect assumed a low profile, canceling his one public appearance, where he was to announce his choice of police commissioner, before driving out at Giuliani's invitation to meet with families at the Ramada Inn at Kennedy International Airport. Later, looking grim and fatigued, Bloomberg stood, mostly silently, by Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki as they held an evening news briefing.

"We've recovered now 225 bodies, and it might actually be higher than that at this point," Giuliani said as Bloomberg stood off to the sidelines, watching the man he is about to succeed.

For New Yorkers, among them the mayor-elect, Monday offered a reprise of the all-encompassing and commanding Giuliani on display in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. At the start of the day, Giuliani had a schedule crammed with events keyed to the U.N. session in New York, with meetings with the leaders of Pakistan and Germany, a tour for foreign dignitaries at ground zero and even an afternoon screening of the Harry Potter movie at Radio City Music Hall.

But Giuliani scrapped that schedule in the high-anxiety first hour after the crash when he, like so many other New Yorkers, feared that the city was under attack again. "We were assuming other things might happen," he said at one of his briefings, where he wore a cap with the insignia of his Office of Emergency Management, whose bunker was destroyed in the collapse of the World Trade Center.

After consulting with President Bush at the White House, Giuliani sealed off New York City at 9:45 a.m., putting it on a Level 1 security alert, which forces the closing of all New York bridges and tunnels to incoming traffic. The city's airports were shut down, and military fighter jets patrolled over Manhattan as Giuliani jumped into his entourage and headed for the Rockaways.

The Empire State Building, the city's tallest skyscraper since the collapse of the trade center, was evacuated.

At the United Nations, where security had been stepped up over the weekend with the arrival of Bush and many world leaders for annual meetings of the General Assembly, news of the crash prompted federal and local law-enforcement officials to seal off the 39-story headquarters to pedestrian and vehicular traffic for three hours.

For the rest of the day and into the evening, Giuliani was a steady flow of information and comfort, moving from the crash site to the inn's ballroom where the families were gathered to a helicopter tour over Jamaica Bay to four press briefings as of Monday evening.