9/11 Reflections

September 12, 2001

Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center yesterday – the Twin Towers in downtown New York City. An hour later they crumbled to the ground. The cloud of dust, debris and smoke rolled through the buildings, consuming downtown Manhattan – making it impossible to breathe or see. At 10 a.m. it was black as night.

At 8:45 a.m., when the first plane hit, I was leaving my house on West 74th Street to vote in the primary election. There was a problem at the voting booths and I didn’t leave until around 9:15, when the second plane hit the other building. I had no idea. A frantic call from my mother made me think my grandfather had died – I couldn’t hear her or get through to her on my cell phone. I got on the subway down to Wall Street.

The express train was diverted to the local track for 4 stops, then resumed on the express track. A few people were talking about it on the subway, but no one knew about the 2nd plane, so no one knew it was a terrorist attack. I got off at Wall Street at 9:55 a.m. in the bottom of my building – the Chase Manhattan Building.

It was mass hysteria. People were being jammed in the revolving door trying to get into the building and away from the flying debris. People were running and screaming that another plane was coming. At any moment I fully expected a plane to come crashing through the doors. I went near the elevators and waited. I knelt down and prayed. I didn’t know what else to do. People were running and crying. I took out my scriptures and just held them. Somehow, I was calm. No one could have imagined what would happen next.

People covered in white dust started coming into the building, fleeing from the suffocating debris. The first building had fallen right before 10. The people looked like ghosts – iridescently white and dazed. Security wouldn’t let us leave. The building started filling with dust and I couldn’t breathe. Finally, people started exiting the building and walking towards the east river.

I left the building. It was dark as dusk. The ground was covered in 2 inches of dust and the air was filled with it. I walked toward the water – everyone else was walking too -- not running; hesitantly, reverently, walking, as if we really did understand what exactly made up the thick dust we were walking through.  Once I got to the river I turned north. Cars were driving. Well, cars were trying to drive, but were stopped in a massive traffic jam. Before I got to the water I passed cars abandoned in intersections. I decided to find a car I could get into. I asked a businessman in a nice car if I could get in. Other strangers had had the same idea, and they nodded at me as I slid into the back seat.

After a few minutes in the car, I could breathe again. We sat in the standstill-traffic and listened to the news. At 10:30 the 2nd building went down. After an hour of not moving I got out to walk. I put my tennis shoes on and walked the five miles home. I was in survival mode. When I got home, I broke down.

One senseless unimaginable act of terrorism. So many lives lost. Today, more than 24 hours later, they still can’t get to the wreckage because of all the debris. There’s nothing for volunteers to do. So we sit and watch the news and try to understand. Hopefully we never will.