|New York Diary September 11, 2001|
The weather was bright and beautiful, so bright that it woke me up before my alarm. I rolled out of bed and checked my email as usual. Had an email from my friend Mark in Australia- his brother Bradley had an aneurysm and Mark left work and is down with his family. Bradley is stable but we're still worried. Bad start to the day. 1010WINS is an all-news all-the-time station that I listen to in the shower because it gives frequent weather and subway updates. About 9:46am, the regular 1010WINS news was interrupted by a story that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. I jumped out of the shower, dried off, went in the bedroom and turned on NY1. Sure enough, they had live video of the burning tower. My father was flying down to Salt Lake City that morning and also, since he is a pilot, I figured he would want to know about this accident. Plus, he fantasizes about flying up and down the Hudson and East rivers in his plane, taking pictures and admiring the view. Mom answered the phone and told me that my dad had already left for the airport. I told her about the accident thinking it was a little Cessna that had crashed and I told her, "You should get up- this story is definitely worth seeing live." After hanging up the phone, I got on a shirt and pants and continued to watch the coverage and listen to the commentary. One of the witnesses said he saw a twin-engine plane crash into the building and I thought that he must be mistaken. There is no way that that big of a plane would get too close to the tower. Plus, with all the technology, air traffic control and the pilot simply being able to look out the window- I didn't see how it was possible. "It must have been some show-off small plane pilot", I thought. I happen to be looking at the T.V. screen when I saw a plane coming from the right of the screen towards the towers. I thought it must be a firefighting plane. Since I'm from Idaho, I'm used to seeing the tanker planes full of water or flame retardant leaving Boise for the forest fires-- so I was expecting them to drop some retardant upwind from the fire in order to put it out. That's when the second plane struck. Boom! I was shocked, dumbfounded. The plane flew right into the tower and exploded. Instantly, I knew that these two crashes were intentional. Hardly able to pull myself away from the coverage, I ran down to the subway to make an appointment I had uptown. Thankfully, it was uptown, not downtown. I got on the subway and rode uptown without a problem. On my way out of the subway station, there was an announcement that downtown service was suspended. After the appointment I came back and jumped on the first bus going downtown. The streets were filled with people. The bus had to wind its way through everybody the streets were just solid heads and I couldn't tell where everyone was going. The bus was packed but everyone was talking as a group. The girl next to me said that the towers had collapsed. "What?” I said, "They collapsed? What do you mean?” She said they both had fallen down. I was stunned. One woman had a small radio and headphones and as she heard news, she would share it with the bus. Everyone would discuss that issue until the next bit of news. She told us the subways were all stopped. She told us about the Pentagon burning. This got everyone scared and one woman started crying. Then she told us that all bridges and tunnels going in and out of Manhattan (it's an island) were closed. Everyone was playing with his or her phone, trying to get a call to go through. The lines had been clogged all morning, plus some companies had antennas on the roof of WTC building 1, which affected long distance service. I too was constantly pressing TALK then END then TALK- suddenly I got a line and was connected to my mom back in Boise. She had gotten up and was now, along with my sister and Dad, trying to call NYC to see how I was. Now that I had a connection to the news, my Mom related events to me, which I then shared with everyone on the bus. The first thing I found out was that a plane had also been crashed into the Pentagon and that was why it was burning. I knew now that this was a big, planned, sophisticated attack. Mom told me now that all U.S. airspace had been shut down and all planes in the sky were told to land immediately and the ones on the ground had to stay. I shared that with the bus and one woman said, "Don't lose that phone line. You won't get connected again." I stayed on about an hour, till I got home. Another woman said her sister was a cop and was working below the towers when they collapsed. She had been unable to reach her on her mobile phone and so the sister was worried. The last bit of info I passed on was that all overseas flights had been diverted to Canada. The closing down of the air space really hit home for me that this was a war. The bus was going down Broadway and there was one obstacle between it and my apartment- the Empire State Building. I did not want to walk anywhere near the building so I went a few blocks past my street and starting walking on a wide berth around the building and back to my apartment.
The weirdest thing was the quiet. No one was talking and the traffic was light. Down Broadway and each of the avenues, you could see the huge plume of smoke. This plume cannot be under estimated. (See attached photos) It was a huge, billowing mass of yellow and brown. It looked like 1981's Mt. St. Helen's eruption. People just walked, or stood, looking at the smoke with mouth agape, pain on their faces and in complete silence.
The crowds around Madison Square Park and the Flatiron building were thick. Two large insurance companies had evacuated their buildings and most of the people had nowhere to go because they couldn’t get home. I worked my way back through the crowds in order to get home, check my messages and get my camera. Near my place there is a National Guard Armory. Though it is an active Armory, it is usually known for having antique shows. I rounded 25th and Lexington and there were camouflage vehicles, jeeps, Humvees and a troop carrier, in front of the armory and soldiers on the sidewalk. Up on the step guarding the front gate stood a soldier in full uniform, at attention, holding an M16 affixed with a bayonet. I have seen such patrols many times: Cambodia, Tunisia, Northern Ireland, even Vienna but it is scary and sad to see machine gun patrols in America. The side streets were pretty bare. Traffic on 27th street was non-existent. I got into my flat and there were already quite a few phone and email messages. I quickly answered the email and grabbed my camera. The smoke could be seen from all the avenues as but it was really big down Broadway so I walked a few blocks and took a few pictures. Again, everyone was silent. A few groups were gathered around police cars and parked cars that had their radios on and windows open. Some people wanted to find out what happened, other people wanted to know how to get home to Brooklyn, New Jersey or Connecticut. All people were in shock. After taking a few pictures, I decided to go home and watch events on CNN. The first thing I did when I got home was to start calling friends in NYC that I didn't already have a message from. Once I heard from most everybody, I sent out a mass email saying that so far my friends and me were OK. For hours I watched CNN and answered phone calls. From 11:00am to 5:33 the longest time between receiving a phone call was 7 minutes. I got 21 calls on Tuesday and another 13 on Wednesday- starting with Dana from Slovakia at 7:30 in the morning. Email was also going crazy as I got notes from friends and long lost friends. By the end of the day I was tired and had a headache. My friend Mark Hopkins had been working across the street from the WTC until last Friday- he had quit on Thursday to take a job at the U.N. Thankfully, he wasn't anywhere down there when it happened. Though I had not eaten dinner, I wasn't hungry. The phone lines started to free-up so I talked with some friends about the night and found that there were others that weren't interested in spending the rest of the night at home, alone, looking at the television. So I went uptown and met a couple of friends. The buses were running- crowded and free. Since the traffic was so light, I made it uptown in no time. Most of the bars and pubs were open and every single one was packed. It seems that others also wanted to be with people that night. At the bar, everyone was friendly and shared stories of the day. There were numerous stories of people who were supposed to be in the building but happen to not be that morning cause they were sick, picking up kids or at an appointment. All the TVs were tuned to CNN. The jukebox was playing and someone inappropriately had played Born In The USA. No one got much sleep that night. -------------------------------------------------
Follow up: Since then, things have been moving very slowly towards, well, not normality but people working and going about. Many things will stay closed till next week. The Armory next to my house has been turned into a missing person's center. They are trying to organize a way to identify bodies. My neighborhood is packed as satellite trucks fill the streets and the police keep out every person who doesn't live here. Any family who had a missing person is to go to the Armory with a recent picture and a copy of their missing person's dental records. One thing noticeable is that people are all being very friendly with each other. I guess it's both the shock and the fact that it could have been any of us who died. The main thing about the environment is the smoke. The last two days the wind has been carrying WTC smoke up through mid-town. It smells so bad. It smells like burning plastic mixed with rotten fruit. It gets in your eyes, hair, skin and everyone has a sore throat. The lucky ones were those able to find dust masks before they sold out. A memorial is set up in Union Square. Cardboard is taped to the ground and large felt pens handed out to those who want to write messages. South of Union Square are the police barriers not letting anyone go downtown who doesn't live there, can show ID and has all his or her bags searched. Outside of supermarkets volunteers are collecting donations for those people involved in relief and search efforts. They want things like Powerbars, water, saline and shirts. The Red Cross is collecting money. Outside the hospitals are lines of blood donors. The city is opening up and traffic is bad again on 3rd ave. All cars coming into the city are searched at every bridge before they can come into Manhattan. Twice today, Grand Central Terminal has been evacuated because of some threat. They are thinking of putting security at every entrance. Something like 6 or 8 million people go through there a day. Can you imagine the line if everyone has to go through x-ray? New York may have to slow the pace. Security will now be a priority as the city is changed forever. If you want to donate, call the Red Cross at 1-800-HELP-NOW
or if overseas go to
International Red Cross