THE phone call was from my wife's Uncle Tom Ashby, who lives in Bridgeport, W. Va. Mr. Ashby, a school bus driver, knew we lived in New York and wanted to be sure "everyone is all right."
"We weren't sure how close you were to the bomb," explained Tom's wife, Loretta.
Many New Yorkers had similar calls: The bomb blast in the World Trade Center on Feb. 26 has been the catalyst for thousands of inquiries from friends and relatives who saw the news of the blast on television. After seeing images of thousands of sooty New Yorkers evacuated from the 110-story buildings, many callers felt the need to reach out, even if it was only a long-distance connection.
Even people who worked miles from the World Trade Center, which is in lower Manhattan, received calls. Advertising salesman Gordon Imrie, whose office is in mid-town, says both his parents and in-laws called "with loving concern." It was a gesture repeated millions of times.
Psychologists say they are not surprised the phone lines have been jammed with incoming calls. "The exact geography does not matter. The World Trade Center is associated with New York, which is now associated with danger," says Dr. Stuart Kleinman, assistant professor of clinical psychology at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.
Most of the calls were from relatives. Leigh Van Blarcom and her husband, James, had a message on their answering machine from a sister-in-law. "She said she just wanted to make sure we were all right and that they loved us very much and wanted to make sure nothing had happened to us," says Mrs. Van Blarcom, whose Greenwich Village apartment is several miles from the World Trade Center.
Since many New Yorkers are originally from outside New York, many of the calls were long distance. In Catherine Stamm's case, very long distance. Her mother and aunt both called from France. Although Ms. Stamm heard the blast at her Wall Street brokerage house ("It sounded like lightening and thunder with that kind of rumbling sound."), she reassured relatives: "We all survived."
Tony Miller, a spokesman for the Australian consulate, reports that several anxious relatives called from Down Under inquiring about loved ones. "We had an inquiry from a mom who thought her son was staying at the Vista Hotel. We gave her the phone number for the hotel and didn't hear back from her," Mr. Miller says.
Other calls were from friends who were curious. Tax lawyer Bruce Garrison and his wife got a call from a Toronto friend who was studying for midterm exams. "He knew we worked close to the Trade Center and wanted to know the details," relates Mr. Garrison, who figures the couple received a total of three calls from out-of-town friends and relatives.
Linda Bohaker used to work at the World Trade Center but is now at the World Financial Center. However, most of her friends and relatives didn't know the difference. "I got a call from someone in California who I haven't talked to for years who wanted to know `what's going on out there?' "
Ms. Bohaker estimates she received about 10 calls from concerned friends and relatives, including a very roundabout call from her sister in Massachusetts. "An aunt was talking to someone in New Jersey who said, `Don't you have a relative who works in the World Trade Center?' She called my mother, who called my sister, who called me."
For some Europeans, the blast was a chance to point out that terrorism is not new. Wall Street investment banker Joyce Greenberg, whose office was across the street from the blast, received a call from a friend in London. "Do you know what she said? `Now you know what we live with all the time.' "