WORKERS AND VICTIMS' KIN ESCAPE TO THE CAPES

By CLARE O'CALLAGHAN

July 21, 2002 -- Last year, innkeepers in Nantucket, Cape Cod and Cape May made rooms available at no cost for those directly affected by the events of 9/11.

But only in the last month has there been a surge of people seeking to take advantage of some overdue rest and relaxation.

Ten months after the Sept. 11 attacks, many victims' families and recovery workers are only now ready to get away for a break.

Firefighter Chuck Downey, who lost his father Chief Ray Downey in the World Trade Center, took a trip to Cape May, N.J., with his family and brother, Ray, at the end of June.

It was the first time Chuck, his wife, Melissa, and their two children, Olivia and Emma, were together for three consecutive nights since the attacks.

Until last month, Downey, a lieutenant in the Special Operations Command, had turned down offers of trips to far-flung locations including the Bahamas.

"I didn't want to go away until the site was cleared," he said, referring to Ground Zero. "I was searching for my father and friends, I had to be there.

"But after spending so much time at the trade center, I needed a break, it was time to get away."

The Downeys had vacationed at Cape May before they had children, and Melissa described last month's return there as a "new beginning."

"It motivated us to live again," she said.

Gwen Goodwin, of East Harlem, started a project called A Breath of Fresh Air after taking a walk along the beach at Cape May, where her parents live, shortly after 9/11.

"The air was so dirty in New York and so clean there. It was beautiful," she said.

Goodwin said Cape May hosted 350 couples and families between October and June. More free accommodations would be made available in September, she said.

A similar scheme, called Island to Island, was set up by Nantucket innkeeper Sandy Knox-Johnston. Like in Cape May, there was virtually no response last fall.

"None of the firefighters could even begin to think about leaving Manhattan," Knox-Johnston said.

But since schools let out in May, 30 families have vacationed on Nantucket, with 70 others waiting for vacancies, she said.



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