My Personal September 11 Page*
by Barry Drogin
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I was working on the 24th Floor of 2 Broadway, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, when a co-worker ran through the halls shouting that the entire top of one of the World Trade Center towers had been blown off. All we could see out of the window was a huge plume of black smoke mixed with white confetti-like paper. Because it was a government building, we decided to immediately evacuate and get as far away from our building as possible.
I ran across Bowling Green to Battery Park, about 4 blocks south of the towers, where I had a clear view of the towers. Although it was difficult to see through the thick smoke, it became obvious that the top of the building was still intact. A rumor on the street was that a small plane had collided with the tower. It looked possible, but it could have been a bomb, or even a gas explosion of some sort.
I was standing with my colleagues, staring in horror at the smoke and fire coming out of the south side of 1 World Trade Center, when, with a roar, a huge Boeing 767 flew low over my left shoulder and slipped into the second tower (see CNN video link below, you'll hear roar and understand what I mean by slipped). Screaming, I fled away, not conscious of the explosion or the fireball that resulted. I ran to the water, in shock, just as a ferry from the Statue of Liberty was pulling in. My cell phone kept getting busy signals.
At the moment I saw that second plane, I knew we were under terrorist attack. When I got a small amount of wits together, I decided to rush home to the West Village to gather my family, staying close to the water, even though the most direct route took me past the World Financial Center. As I fled north, I passed hundreds and thousands of people staring up, shouting into cell phones, waiting on-line to talk on pay phones, milling around. As I ran past the World Financial Center and up the bike path next to the West Side Highway, there was not a huge crowd fleeing north with me. In fact, I remember a jogger out for her morning run heading south amongst the crowd of curious tower watchers.
When I reached my apartment in the West Village, many of my neighbors were out in the street watching the smoke. It was then that there arose a gasp in the crowd, mixed with screams, as one of the towers collapsed, spewing a huge cloud of dust, debris and ash over all of the thousands of people I had passed on my journey north.
My wife, dazed but determined, actually went to vote in the primary in defiance after things started happening. I pulled my oldest son (age 4) from school, which is near St. Vincent's hospital, and he saw the towers on fire. Meeting up with my wife, we were on our way to pick up my youngest son (age 1) from a sitter when, like Lot's wife, my wife turned to witness the second tower fall.
The whole family stood in long lines to get emergency supplies from the supermarket, and bunkered in at home for the day, packing bags and calling our immediate family. My youngest son was unaware of everything, but my oldest son was very scared, and periodically curled up into a fetal position.
By late afternoon, when we heard that everyone below Canal Street was being evacuated, we decided that the risk was too great. (We live above Canal, but below 14th Street.) We were also worried about a shift in the still bellowing smoke cloud affecting my oldest son's asthma. That evening we all walked to 38th Street and caught the ferry to my mother-in-law's place in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
All day, every time I closed my eyes, the sight of that jumbo jet plowing into the tower played in my head. I didn't get much sleep that night.
The following night I returned to Manhattan to conquer my fears, but was too scared to be at home by myself, so I stayed with a friend uptown. The next morning I dropped in on the midtown offices of some contractors we had hired, and they were kind enough to give me an office with a telephone and Internet access. I spent most of the work day filling up a single yellow sheet of paper with telephone numbers (no Rolodex, no employee directory, etc.). I returned home Thursday night, but the air quality outside wasn't so good.
My wife was determined to return home for Shabbas, and arrived with the children in the midst of Friday morning's rain. By the afternoon, we had blue sunny skies, and that night Shabbas went off as planned. My oldest son was jumping at loud noises, had trouble with the dark and awoke at 2am with a nightmare. Many of his friends who stuck it out for the week fled for the weekend - I don't blame them. I didn't return to work until after Rosh Hashanah, the following Thursday.
We know some of the aftermath. Thousands missing in the rubble, including firefighters who had rushed to the scene. Downtown residents evacuated, homeless, returning later to apartments with no water, no electricity, no telephone. Many businesses and schools permanently displaced. Every lamppost and wall plastered with photographs of the missing.
It is easy to prove, statistically, that every resident of New York is either grieving for someone missing, or knows someone else who is. This includes the quarter of a million people - or is it half a million? - who saw, with their own eyes, a little too much, or were caught in the debris cloud, and as a result have been confused by sleeplessness, nightmares, loss of appetite, unable to decide what to have for breakfast, where they'll be in an hour, what they want.
Everyone started talking about post-traumatic stress syndrome. My wife talked to a psychologist, who pointed out that, for the first 30 days, it's still acute traumatic stress syndrome. I was reminded of that line from Sondheim's "Losing My Mind" - "Sometimes I stand in the middle of the room, not turning left, not turning right." For a while, street corners were like that for me. I couldn't remember why I was out, where I was headed. I couldn't plan more than a minute ahead.
A month later, I'm getting better at deciding what to have for breakfast and remembering which way to walk at an intersection, but the sounds of the military planes and police helicopters patrolling overhead still provokes visceral fear, not comfort. Every time I look downtown, I see the void; every time I look uptown, I worry about the Empire State Building. I can't sleep with the windows open - the normal sounds of the city at night are too disturbing now. I'm still on alert, listening for incoming.
Short impressions - living near Ground Zero
Rebuilding the World Trade Center Click here for my proposed design for a safer re-built World Trade Center.
Where Was I Exactly? In 2007 I received an e-mail inquiry relating to a previous version of this website, which contained a statement about where I was and where a tourist who filmed a video was standing. With new technologies available from Google (Google Maps Street View, Google Earth) and revisiting Battery Park and taking photos from various positions, I was able to correct my original response to the e-mail inquiry. I've created a new page that contains maps, photos, and an animated GIF from the video that someone else created from the video. Warning: The new page contains disturbing imagery from the moment that the second plane crashed into the WTC.
Since September 11, I have participated in several listservs, bulletin boards and discussion forums. You can see that most date from September and October, 2001.
Significant September 11 links
*This page was initially called "My Personal War Page." With the feeling that America was under attack, the "War on Terrorism" and the preparations for war in Afghanistan, this visceral and subconscious allusion to the Indian "on the war path" felt appropriate. A year-and-a-half later, with the numerous anti-war rallies and the media attention on a pending war with Iraq, the Middle East conflict, and nuclear proliferation in North Korea, I've retitled the page, although the URLs, "warXX.html", remain so that all of the links, internally and externally, can remain valid. I have a personal opinion on these other matters of war (I'm not a pacifist), but I am not so public about it, and have no desire to post those opinions on this web site or on any other. Now that "September 11" (pronounced "September Eleventh") has entered the American lexicon as a generic (like July 4 (pronounced "July Fourth")), a retitling is most appropriate.
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