|This is an e-mail I received from a friend of mine re: the WTC tragedy. It offers some insight into what it is like in NYC right now.
By now you have all heard of the terrible tragedy that has befallen New York City and the United States. I thought I would take a moment to write to you and bring you a first person perspective on the attacks.
First things first, I am fine. I was nowhere near the attack when it took place. In fact, I was actually safely asleep in my bed when the first plane struck the World Trade Center (WTC).
My alarm clock went off with news radio informing me that a small plane had crashed into the WTC. I wasnt very awake and it didnt register with me, but a few minutes later when I heard that a second plane had hit, I jumped out of bed to turn on the television. My instinct told me something terrible had happened and this was confirmed when I saw the television footage of black smoke coming from the towers. The reporter said play the tape back and that is when I saw the plane crash into the tower.
When I got to my office, I noticed people coming out of the building rather than going up. I decided to head up to the office to use the phones and find out more about what happened. I found ten messages from friends and colleagues around the world, and I struggled to find out more information about what was going on. As I walked into my office, my secretary hastily ran past me saying Im outta here.
A colleague came rushing in to tell me that the WTC was now gone. This hit me really hard, and I felt that something so familiar just couldnt be destroyed. I had just visited the WTC on Sunday, and it was something I saw nearly everyday. I decided to leave my office in midtown and walk home.
When I saw the news that passenger airlines had been used in the attacks, it made me sick to think of the innocent civilians who were doing nothing more than crossing the country on an airplane ride. It was a truly beautiful day in New York, and no one started this day thinking it would end in tragedy.
I watched with shock, anger and horror as the news reports showed people jumping out of the WTC to escape the flames. These were bond traders and lawyers and janitors and waitersnot exactly military targets.
Before I knew it, it was 10:00 PM and I went out for a walk. Nothing was open where I lived (just a few blocks from Times Square). I ended up going home and eating cereal, which would be the only thing I ate for the next 48 hours.
The first day was a shock about the loss of two buildings and the crash of some airplanes, but by the second day the stories of survivors and the missing started to appear. I grew sadder and sadder as I heard the stories of the loved ones looking for the husbands, wives, fathers, sons
There were firms in the building that I did business with, there was a former colleague that worked there and is now missing. There were stories of people leaping to their deaths, and firemen struggling to save lives while people were dying all around.
The next few days were very stressful, more stressful than anything I'd ever been through. Suddenly every problem in my life became insignificant, and my heart was with the victims and the ones left behind. I found myself waking up early in the morning in a panic of helplessness and sadness, the reality of the previous evening coming back with a crushing weight. I felt myself becoming more and more of a New Yorker as the city bound together to combat this attack.
On Friday, I went to pay our respects to the fire stations that are near my house. At the first station, I lit two candles and left some flowers for the men of Engine 54, Ladder 4 just around the corner at 48th and 8th Avenue. Every night I sleep, these firemen would wake me up with the sirens as they drove past my house. Tonight, it was rather silent at the station.
This station lost 15 firemen and their ladder truck, which was destroyed in the blast. Because the attack took place around 9:00 AM in the morning, the fire departments were changing shifts. Thus, most stations had double the number of firemen and they all overloaded the fire trucks on the way down to the WTC. A huge pile of flowers and candles covered the driveway, and pictures drawn by local children covered the walls with words like thank you for being brave and one having a picture showing a fireman catching the people jumping out of the building. One showed a policemen and a firemen standing tall over the city, with the caption The Twin Towers of the City referring to the firemens and policemens bravery and courage.
One sad note at this station was the orphaned son of a fireman. He was a little boy about five sitting on the bumper of the remaining Engine who told people my father likes to save people. Unfortunately, his father has not returned.
I then went to see the men of Engine Co. 23, about two blocks north of my house. This Engine was also lost, and an old rusting 1970s fire truck was in the station to fill in the gaps. Six men from this station were lost in the tragedy, and we left more flowers and candles with the firemen (from Boston) who were manning this station.
My next stop was the Family Service Center at the New York National Guard armory. This was horrible. All around the building were quickly made missing signs, with photos and information about people lost in the WTC. Family members were holding pictures and begging anyone they could find for information about their lost relatives. Some of the pictures were funnyone even showed an elderly man standing next to an elephant. I guess it was the best picture they had of him, but it also helped people remember his name. Others photos were tragic, with a picture of fathers and mothers holding their children. I also noticed one Chinese woman holding her baby, walking around with an anguished face as she handed out fliers of her husbands picture. It was so sad to see this young child who would grow up without their father.
The pictures scared me, because they looked like everyone. There were fat and thin, pretty and ugly, black, white, Chinese, Hispanic, middle class, educated, upper class. There were janitors and lawyers. People from all over the world, as the WTC crash affected many people from many countries. One photo showed a brother and sister who were missing, another had a husband and wife. For each person missing, there are dozens of loved ones who have broken hearts, and some children that will never know their parents. I was teary eyed for hours after this as we went home for the night.
I should note that New York is a very strange place right now. Its quiet around town, but there are massive rescue efforts underway that are visible to anyone. On one day, we saw the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship now serving as a hotel for the firemen. It sits next to the USS Intrepid, a WWII aircraft carrier (which looks small next to the hospital ship). On one day, I saw a convoy of massive digging equipment make its way through Times Square. With a police escort, nearly 15 huge semi-trucks made their way down the road with giant digging equipment on the flatbeds. The license plates Ire from Wisconsin and Minnesota, and Andrew said they were likely from the iron mines of the Minnesota. Volunteers had driven them all the way from the Midwest to New York, with flags and yellow ribbons tied to their trucks.
Volunteers are everywhere in town. You see fire trucks from Boston, police from New Hampshire, National Guard units from all over New York. They actually had to ask people to stop coming because they simply had too much help.
Saturday started with a visit to Engine 31, down around Times Square and across the street from St. Francis of Assissi Monestary. Father Judge was the fire department Chaplain who lived with the friars and rode with Engine 31 to the fires. His story was incredibly tragic.
One of the first firemen to die at the WTC was a young man rushing into the building. A woman who had jumped from the 100th floor landed on the firemen, and Father Judge and the Deputy Fire Chief went to his aid. Seeing that the stricken fireman had already died, the priest took off his helmet to administer last rites. That was when he, and the Deputy Chief were hit by fallen debris and killed.
Fireman grabbed Father Judges body and carried him to a nearby church. They then, very delicately, laid his body on the altar of the church and went back to deal with the wounded. After the building collapsed, the men of Engine 31 grabbed Father Judges body and took him back to their station where he would be safe, placing him in their bunk and inviting the priests from across the street come over to pray. The reverence they showed to Father Judge was something I will always remember when I think about this tragedy.
I should also note that Engine 31 lost six firemen. We left flowers at this station as well, and then decided to head to the crime scene.
New York has been cut into two by the police and I was unable to get farther south than Canal Street, a street that runs East-West through city and bisects Chinatown. We ate lunch in Chinatown (which was busy, but also kind of quiet) and then walked down Canal Street East to West. We could see the smoke from this location (but you can see the smoke from nearly everywhere in the city). However, when I got to Church Street, the street that runs next to WTC Building 4 and 5, I could actually see some of the wreckage of the WTC Towers (buildings 1&2). About 50 feet of the building was sitting in middle of the street, nearly a block from the tower's base, and giant cranes were everywhere around the debris trying to rescue those who are still missing. It was too sad to stay and watch, so I decided to head home for the night.
On Sunday, I visited a bagel place on the East side, but when I came out I found yet another fire station and yet another memorial. This station lost its ladder and the battalion chief car that was stationed there. A total of nine firemen were missing from this station.
I went to visit his friend Michael who has a new baby. The baby was out, but I ended up walking around the upper West Side, visiting our final fire station of the weekend at 78th and Broadway. They lost seven men in the battle, and their fire truck was also destroyed.
Fire trucks from 48th, 58th, 52nd, and 78th streets in Manhattan responded to the fire (about three miles away). All of these stations lost men and equipment, despite being far away from the WTC. The initial response was 400 firemen, but now some 300 are missing. These were the men who were going up the stairs while civilians were fleeing downwards. Many survivors told how they applauded these young brave firemen on their way up to the flames. The scope of this disaster is massive, and the debris covered many blocks killing many men and women.
In talking with friends and "friends of friends" these last few days, I've heard many horrible stories. Most gruesome is the accounts of people jumping out of the building to escape the flames. One photograph is of a couple, a man and a woman, jumping hand in hand. Husband and wife, boss and secretary, or just two strangers who didn't want to die alone...I'll never know.
But as horrible as the people falling from the sky is to see, you have to remember that it also saved lives. A number of people who had evacuated from the building, prior to the collapse, were milling about at the base of the WTC and in the blocks surrounding (think about it, what did you do during your last fire drill? -- Stand across the street). It wasn't until they saw the bodies of the falling victims that they realized "this is really bad" and started to walk or run away from the building. A "friend of a friend" was in this crowd of several thousand people and mentioned they all started to flee when they saw the first bodies coming flying down. This action saved their lives, for when the building collapsed, the streets and blocks where they were standing were covered in debris, killing anyone who remained.
So here it is Sunday night and Ive been trying to go on with life. They say the best way to fight terrorism is to work hard and get on with life. Maybe this letter is part of that process.
I want you all to know that I appreciate your calls and e-mails. Its nice to know that you care and I take comfort in knowing you are concerned. I hope you are all remembering the missing in your thoughts and prayers.