A NEW YORKER'S DAY OF TERROR
by Constance Daley with Gene Albertelli
American Reporter Correspondents
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- (Editor's Note: Regrettably, we were unable to publish on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12, and this article was temporarily lost. We publish it now with our apologies to the authors.) Yesterday, the majestic southern skyline of New York crumbled at her feet with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center collapsing inwardly at the insult, not keeling over in defeat.
Not only New Yorkers but families all over the world worried about someone they knew who might be there. My nephew Jonathan was my worry, working at Deutsche Bank in the WTC complex, and not reachable. In a network of calls to all our family in New York we learned he was safe. He was the last one out of his office. At the back door, it became "every man for himself, and oh, Aunt Connie, you won't believe what I saw. "Bodies all over, people jumping from buildings, it was horrible, horrible. I got hysterical. We all ran toward the East River and headed home," he wailed, beginning to sob anew. "People were running to each other and hugging, tighter and tighter, and not letting go." While still near the tragic scene, he made his way to a coffee shop, found a phone and called his mother. We learned he was safe.
Later, I asked a young friend from the Upper East Side of New York to tell me where he was and what he saw." He responded:
by Gene Albertelli
NEW YORK, N.Y. -- There are 8,000,000 stories in the big city now, and these are mine.
I left my apartment late, as usual, and crossed Third Avenue at 88th St. As I looked south, I saw a white-gray cloud hanging very low. I thought it was strange, but it had rained a lot last night. Maybe it was a remainder of the clouds. I thought of the bombing at the World Trade Center -- when was that, 1995?
I took the train at 86th St., which is my usual routine -- the express to the local to 28th St. -- and, again as usual, into the local Le Croissant shop for an iced tea. The woman at Le Croissant was looking past me through the window and saying: "A plane has hit the World Trade Center." I looked at her, confused, not understanding what she said. I spun around to look out the window as the man next to me said, "Yeah, both towers have been hit." Stunned, I paid for the tea, thanked her, and went to my office.
My co-worker was on the phone, and said: "It's your sister." When I got on the phone with Amy, she filled me in with what little she knew but really just wanted to be sure I was fine. My co-worker told me, "I was on the el [elevated train] coming in from Queens and I saw one of the towers in flames and then a fireball coming off the other."
We snapped on the radio in my office and heard a woman reporter screaming: "Oh my GOD, OH MY GOD!" We couldn't see what she was seeing as she continued, "The building is collapsing. The Tower is crumbling."
One look at my co-worker and we both knew we needed to get out of our office immediately. Our telephones were not working. We thought the electricity would go out and strand us in an elevator -- which would not place us as a top priority -- so we walked down the 20 floors to the ground.
The two of us started walking toward my brother's flower shop a few streets away. I needed to know that he was well. I hoped we would see my sister there, too. The buses were not running and both my sister and co-worker would have to find a way home to Long Island on the train.
Traffic was light compared to any other day. Sirens were everywhere. We heard them racing up Sixth Avenue, down Seventh Avenue, bouncing off the caverns of Midtown. A sign on a telephone pole had a photograph of Mark Green: "Vote for me in the Primaries on September 11. I want to be your next Mayor." This was not a good day for a primary election. The gentlemen, both running for Mayor, may rethink their wish to be Mayor of New York.
People walked hurriedly with cell phones to their ears, passing many others who stood on long lines for payphones. I overheard someone saying, "This is like the day that J.F.K. was shot."
Walking across to the West Side on 28th St., we stopped at every avenue looking south just as every other person was doing. At Sixth Avenue, we saw the one remaining twin tower in flames. We stopped. We watched. We continu= ed to walk and by the time we got to our destination just beyond Seventh Avenue, we were told that the second twin tower had collapsed. Like sand castles built by the shore. Eroded sand. Dust.
We reached the flower shop. My brother was there; his bosses were there -- he was not at the World Trade Center where they work regularly. They were all very emotional. They knew people who worked in the building but they didn't know if they survived. I knew I could not stay there. I needed to walk around. I needed to be alone.
I walked out to Sixth Avenue to look and see for myself that the single building I saw in flames was, in fact, gone. I walked passed a man who wore a gray T-shirt with the black letters "vendetta."
Did he know what was going to happen today? Did he have some foresight? I wondered, knowing that, like anything else, he could not have known. His face was serious, as was everyone's.
It was a day where eyes met eyes softly, without the toughness so common in New York faces: a toughness that is, in reality, a facade. When our eyes met, we were the family to which the tragic event had just happened. It was still in his eyes, still in mine: fear, imprinted at seeing two buildings, beacons of the southern tip of our island, melt into the ground.
Our eyes held uncertainty and devastation, overshadowing the pride we New Yorkers take in our city 85 believing always each and every piece of our New York will last forever.
I passed a group of Asian women just leaving a building, speaking loudly in their native language -- which one, I do not know. Their words, their expressions, the motioning of their hands told me they were speaking of the World Trade Center buildings.
Around Pennsylvania Station at 34th St., were large groups of people waiting for trains to Long Island and New Jersey. Manhattan was closed down; New York City was forced to stop. On the Eighth Avenue side of the train station, the main branch of the U.S. Post Office stood silently proud with its strong columns. The Postal Police were everywhere. Along the 31st St. side where the trucks park, there were bright yellow cords. This area was off limits to everyone.
Were they protecting the mail? Or were they protecting the train tracks that sit below the post office?
A further walk toward the river showed me the Postal Police blocking the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. A single postal police officer stood there guarding the tunnel. His car radio was screeching and cracking. Sirens screamed continuously in the background. At the West Side Highway garbage trucks were parked along the river's edge, again probably protecting the underground trains.
Outside O'Farrell's bar on Eleventh Avenue was an Irishman, I think, holding a large American flag. He just stood stoically outside the bar. People passed by on their way to the West Side Highway to hop a ferry to New Jersey. There were no trains or buses leaving.
A man was saying, "I was in Battery Park when the first one went." And another man responded, "I saw it hit -- on the opposite side." A woman, standing still, spoke with a Jamaican accent. "I don't know how this happened," she said.
Car doors were open and radios were playing at high volume to let passersby hear the latest developments. I overheard a woman with a gum-cracking voice say, "This is the weirdest thing -- like a mass exodus. I kinda want o have a camera." I had a camera with me, but I could not take photos. Taking photos seemed "hard" to me. I did not want to "take" anything; I wanted to give. What should I do? Where should I go? I heard a woman speaking into her cell phone, "Happy Anniversary. You won't forget this one. I love you."
As I continued southbound on the West Side Highway, I passed the Emergency FBI/NYPD outpost. Later, I saw someone I knew at a job I worked 12 years ago. I did not say hello.
Across the street, parked on the southbound side of the West Side Highway, were ambulances. For as far as one could see, following the curve of the West Side Highway, which mirrors the island and passes the Chelsea Piers Sports Center, the ambulances sat waiting -- like vultures, I thought.
Normally the view down the West Side Highway would be rewarded with the Twin Towers, but they were gone. There was smoke billowing upward. The ambulances had the names of hospitals from all over the New York, Long Island, New Jersey and West Chester. People stood watching the smoke rise from the rubble. They were just watching in disbelief. The screech of a fighter jet, an F-15, drew our eyes above. It was an eerie sight to see over New York.
I walked past two men at 21st Street and the West Side Highway. They asked, with a European accent, how to get to Soho. I stood for a moment as they gave me the two cross streets 85 saying that they could meet a friend who lived there. I gave them the directions and asked them if they were on vacation. They were from Italy. They were very upset about the devastation of the Twin Towers.
We spoke briefly, unbelieving. One of the men asked, "How could this have happened?" We stood there without words to explain. We parted, shaking hands and wishing each other well. Coming towards us as we parted was a couple speeding along on in-line skates. The windows were open at a bar on 23rd St. A man stood aside so I could poke my head in the window to see a CNN newscast with films of the Twin Towers in flames before they fell and then images of the buildings falling.
Repeating the images over and over again as the CNN news people continued to repeat the same information over and over. On the bottom of the screen in red, white and blue were the words, AMERICA UNDER ATTACK. People were parting. There were long hugs and instructions, "Call me as soon as you get home. I need to know that you get home okay."
I wanted a quick bite. I didn't feel callous; I was hungry. It was 3:00 or so and I stepped into a bar where there were many tv screens. We were forced to watch CNN. Throughout the report on New York, we were on our best behavior watching and listening. As soon as they went to the Pentagon, we all looked at each other and started to drink our drinks as if Washington did not matter. We ordered grilled cheese sandwiches: comfort food.
The trains started running and everywhere were people hugging and saying the same thing: "Get home safe."
I continued to walk to my apartment on 91st street. I walked through Central Park. I wanted to be in Central Park, to see the green and not have to hear the sirens. I walked past the carousel with the horses rising and falling and found the pipe organ music annoying. There were children and tourists on the carousel. I stopped and watched. I saw some German-speaking tourists speaking in their native language. I could not understand a word but their hands motioned in a crumbling motion. I knew what they were talking about.
I continued on my journey home. The park was solemn. I could still hear sirens. I could still hear the fighter jets above. I could still hear people on their cell phones. I overheard one side of the cell phone conversation of a man sitting on the grass.
"I walked." "Giuliani told everyone to go to the Upper East Side."
I thought that was pretty funny. New Yorkers follow instructions and when the Mayor says, "Go" we go where he says.
I got close 86th St. and, needing reassurance, pased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of my favorite places. It was still there, unharmed.
I stopped at The Church of Heavenly Rest and said a prayer. There was a woman there, sniffling.
I walked through the streets of the Upper East Side and there was hardly any traffic; eerie for 5:30 PM. There was lots of silence. And, of course, the ever present sirens in the distance. I crossed Third Avenue and could still see the smoke billowing above lower Manhattan.
Just a few streets from home now, I walked past a park and saw children playing. They did not know what was happening. There were children of different colors and different religions. They were playing together.