NEW YORK - The middle-class Queens neighborhood hit by today's plane crash was already reeling from the loss of scores of residents in the World Trade Center disaster, many of them firefighters.
"I just thought 'Oh, no, not again,"' said Milena Owens, who was putting up Thanksgiving decorations when she heard an explosion and saw flames and smoke as American Airlines Flight 587 came down two blocks away.
"Just on the heels of one horror, another," said Fern Liberman, who also lives nearby.
The Rockaway Beach neighborhood is on a strip of land at the southern end of Queens, just across Jamaica Bay from John F. Kennedy International Airport. Authorities say the American Airlines flight crashed after taking off from Kennedy for the Dominican Republic with 255 people aboard.
At the scene, Ed Williams said the wreckage was lying on top of about 12 homes. "It's pandemonium here," he said.
The crash was another blow to a community made up largely of Irish, Italians and Jews still trying to get over the shock of Sept. 11. Neighbors said as many as 100 residents `firefighters or employees at the Cantor Fitzgerald bond firm.
"We were still in mourning," said Kathleen Boyle, a 27-year resident. "I've been to a number of funerals. I know the mothers of those boys. We all knew everybody from the stores, from church, we were all so close."
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, too, recalled the community's losses.
"I just passed the church in which I've been to, I think, 10 funerals," he said. "The idea that Rockaway was the victim of this -- I mean, anyplace it happened, obviously, is awful -- but it had a special significance to it."
One surviving firefighter from the Rockaways, Mike Moran, drew attention to the neighborhood on Oct. 20 when he mounted the stage during the nationally televised fund-raising Concert for New York at Madison Square Garden. His older brother, John, was among the firefighters killed Sept. 11.
"In the spirit of the Irish people, Osama bin Laden, you can kiss my royal Irish ass," Mike Moran said. "I live in Rockaway and this is my face."
Moran's widowed sister-in-law, Kim, lives 10 blocks from the site and heard the crash. She said her brother-in-law was off duty at his Manhattan firehouse at the time of the crash and got a ride to the scene from police.
"I thought of my husband and I thought of his brother. I hope for Michael's sake this wasn't terrorism because he'll feel responsible," she said. "He lost his brother, I lost my husband. I would hate for this to mean there will be more heartbreak here."
Gary Toms, associate editor of the community weekly The Wave, said there had been many neighborhood fund-raisers and clothing drives and food drives since Sept. 11 for families of the victims.
"We were still trying to bury a number of our heroes," he said. "This is going to compound the devastation a lot of people to deal with."
Added Marie Rudolph: "At this point, we're still walking up and hugging each other. We haven't gotten back to normal. ... The neighborhood with hold up. We're a tight place, the Rockaways. We'll get by. We're down, we're not out."