The day of September 11, 2001 is forever branded in my mind. Even today, I remember the events as they unfolded. Though I was far from the people and the locations that were destroyed, a piece of me will never be the same, which is probably true for every American.
The day had started just like any other day. At the time I was a technology consultant working in Ohio. That morning I did not go to work because I had a doctor appointment and was taking the rest of the day off. After my appointment I heard the first news about the attack on the World Trade Center.
As soon as I got home I was glued to the TV, mesmerized with the scene before me of the first pictures of the World Trade Center. First there was rumors about bombs and missiles. I think our thoughts went there because the World Trade Center had been bombed by terrorists just a few years before in 1993. I remember the news stories about how it went off in a basement of the parking garage and how the people made their way out of the smoke-filled building.
I was really in shock. As I watched the Special Report there were a few witness reports about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, soon to be corroborated by a news source. I wondered how it was possible for a plane to accidentally crash into the building. Obviously, I knew it was possible, but how was it possible with all the flight restrictions around a city, especially around a city like New York. The news broadcasters were talking about the number of workers in the building. In shock themselves they described the immensity of the damage to the structure where the plane had smashed into the it.
The live video was being shown by Good Morning America. Smoke and fire was pouring from the building with these huge gaping holes through the two sides of the building. I knew there was no way anyone on those floors could survive. I wondered about the floors above the crash site. Were they alive? Could they get out? Based on the damage, it didn’t look like they would be able to get past the damaged area to go down. There was the roof. Perhaps they could rescue people by airlift, but there was so much smoke.
Based on this reporting, it wasn’t only me that was confused. As I watched the scene on TV, suddenly I saw the dark shape of the tilted airplane curve around the building and then the gush of fire, debris aflame, followed by an enormous blast of fire boiling over the building. An eye-witness who was being interviewed exclaimed, “Oh my god. Oh my god.” While all of us were watching the scene, the second plane hit the second building. This was live, real-time video, and I was shocked about what I had just seen. It was that moment that I, and probably everyone in the rest of the country, realized this was an attack. I don’t think my thoughts were much different from anyone else in this country. Shortly after, there was the realization that it was a large plane, like a commercial jet. It was plausible for a plane to accidentally hit one building. But not two planes hitting two buildings within minutes of each other.
The reporters were showing the live video over and over again. We all watched. An airplane hit the building and the buildings were on fire. We all watched, quite helpless, as New York City was being attacked. Everyone was in shock. There were soon discussions about a plane being hijacked. Government offices were being evacuated and the military had their jets in the air.
At that moment I decided that none of this was a good sign and who knew what else was going to happen. Later they reported that an Arabic group was claiming responsibility for the attack. This really wasn’t surprising. There had been several attacks abroad and numerous stories of attempted attacks from some radicals in the Middle East. At the time I really didn’t understand why we were hated. Was it over oil? Or Israel? I didn’t know. Later this Arabic group denied any involvement. As I was contemplating all of this, there soon were reports of clouds of smoke in Washington D.C. and that there was fire at the Pentagon.
With all of this live reporting as the acts of terrorism were happening, I grew more and more anxious. There was no doubt that our country was being attacked, and the attack was deliberately planned and executed. First the World Trade Centers in New York, and then another plane at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. I don’t mean to belittle the moment or to be disrespectful, but it didn’t seem real. It felt very odd to be watching the TV, helpless, and seeing all of the evidence of these horrific attacks. Witnesses described the people in the streets of New York who were stopped, doing nothing and just staring at the buildings with the billowing smoke coming out of them. Clearly, this whole country was in shock. Soon they announced that the government was ordering all air traffic across the country to be stopped. The government was trying to prevent another attack. Potential target areas were taking precautions. The White House was evacuated. Even the Sears Tower in Chicago was closed. It was obvious it wasn’t just me that was afraid. The whole nation was in disbelief.
The South Tower
As the news broadcasters continued their discussion I could see debris falling down the side of the building and all of a sudden the live video showed one of the World Trade Centers collapsing. With waves of smoke, it looked as if it imploded with billowing smoke and dust being sucked down with the building. Soon the dust in slow motion surrounded the other buildings in the area. We saw it live on TV. It took only a few seconds and the building was gone.
To this day if I watch that video it still makes me gasp. It was so unexpected. I don’t think anyone thought the building would go down. It was the South Tower and a reporter said the people in the streets were in panic, trying to flee away from the area. The news broadcaster was stunned and was momentarily silent. I could feel his grief. The only other moment in my life that I saw such emotion from a broadcaster was when Walter Cronkite described the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Everyone’s thoughts immediately went to the enormous number of lost lives in those few seconds. And then the first tower, barely discernible, stood all alone with billowing gray dust below and black boiling smoke at its top.
The North Tower
Shortly after the first tower collapsed it was reported that the remaining tower was leaning. I could tell the top of the building was deteriorating from the fires. The gaping holes were no longer distinguishable. And then I saw the North Tower, with a sudden burst of fire, follow its predecessor, collapsing to the ground. Shards of steel could be seen crumpling under the devastating weight of the building. Streams of dust and debris arched out like the shape of the trail of fireworks. There are no words to describe how I felt at that moment. One dreadful event happening one after the other with no moments spared. All happening within an hour and a half.
My immediate thought was that I needed to pick up my two-year old child from daycare. I wanted to make sure he was safe. I wanted him with me. I had this image in my head like in those disaster movies. I saw myself in the midst of an apocalyptic tragedy, desperately trying to get to my son. I decided this image was not going to be me. I know this all may sound silly, but that was my instinct. I was so happy to get to my son. When I picked him up, I stood there a moment just hugging him. At the time, my husband was in Africa. So it was just the two of us together. I knew that our life here in America was going to drastically change and it would not be the same world for my son.
My instincts also told me that I needed to be prepared. After I picked up my son I immediately filled my car with gas. I knew that if I needed to get away I would need fuel. Luckily this was very early in the day, because by the afternoon the gas prices were jacked up. The gas was $1.59 a gallon when I got it. By the end of the day the prices had went up to $5.59 a gallon. It was just another uncouth, despicable event that reinforced how much I hate the oil industry.
My son and I returned home and once again sat watching the TV. Soon pictures were shown of areas near the World Trade Centers, laden with heavy layers of dust. People were covering their mouths with a cloth so they could breathe. The dust swirled like a heavy fog. The streets looked nothing like New York City. Instead they appeared as a foreign world with layers of dirt. People wandered with their ghost-like faces smothered with dust from the Twin Towers. Some were crying and some totally silent as if caught it a daze.
As news was announced that at least one of the hijacked planes came from Boston heading for Los Angeles, I began to think about the people on those planes. It was early in the morning which is always a busy time for business travelers. I thought about those families that were wondering if the hijacked plane was the one carrying their loved one. If it were myself, I would be frantically trying to call them, desperate to find out more information. I don’t know which would be worse, not knowing or knowing.
Thoughts of my loved ones creeped into my mind. I had it in my head that if things didn’t go well where we lived, I would pack up the car and head to my parents. It was really absurd. My parents lived about 500 miles away in another state. I know it was silly, but that was my plan. I don’t even know what I was expecting to happen. I guess I saw New York City being attacked and here I was right in the middle of another city. I just didn’t trust the situation.
Soon the FAA was reporting there are still two airplanes unaccounted for, even though all flights were grounded throughout the United States. Someone from Cleveland reported that a plane made an emergency landing as a result of a bomb threat. This was frightening to think about. What target were they aimed for? Is it only New York or Washington D.C. that were vulnerable? Could it happen in Chicago, or Los Angeles, or Houston? All were at risk. I knew that there was no city that was safe. It was obvious the engineers of this plan of devastation did this with the intent to cause terror in all of the American people. This wasn’t the front lines of a war zone. This was terror that we felt in our very homes. They wanted to touch each one of us. They wanted to show us that we were helpless and they held the power. They showed us that we were vulnerable. They wanted us to be afraid, and we were.
Those who survived
As I continued to watch the news, more video was coming in. The videos were of areas near the Twin Towers, both as they collapsed and revealing the trauma after they fell. They showed all of the people running away from the scene. Police officers, business people, shoppers, people choking from the dust, firemen, tourists, men and women rapidly moved away from the falling buildings. All of them were trying to outrun the boiling dust as it advanced toward them. Many of the first-responders were covered in dust and debris. People held their handkerchiefs and cloth over their mouths to help them breath as they escaped this living dust. All of them had this look of shock and fear on their faces. Many wept in sorrow. I clearly remember a scene of a police office walking in this blanket of dust and fine debris in the air. No one else around him, just the gray of the dust with shadows here and there.
Once in a while an ambulance would pass or we would see a group of medical personnel. Sounds of sirens could be heard and we could see the red fire trucks lined up in the street. Soon there became reports of people who were injured and report of people who were safe. Horrific reports came out about people who jumped from the buildings and fell to their deaths. In New York the people continued to stream away from the ruins, and behind them the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center stood no more.
Messages came from all over the world expressing their sorrow. And sadly to say there were demonstrations of celebration from those that were enemies of the United States. Messages of recovery came out from representatives of the government including New York’s governor.
As time continued there were more pictures of the place where the World Trade Centers once stood. We saw the devastation, covered in soot and dirt with piles and piles of debris.
Slowly there was news about which specific flights were involved in the attacks that day, along with their places of departure and destination, which they never got to. As the broadcaster watched lines and lines of people walking away from the damaged areas, it was announced that there was a report of a United Airplane that had crashed. Today we now know this story very well. We have now seen the transcripts the passenger’s telephone calls as this occurred, as well as any background noise and talking from within the plane. We know about the brave individuals who fought back against the hijackers. In the end the plan crashed in Pennsylvania.
On that day the skies were clear blue with bright sunshine except over Manhattan which was engulfed in dust. It being one of two wounded cities, along with a nation of traumatized hearts. The landscape of New York no longer includes the majestic twin towers of the World Trade Center. For days and weeks this was in our news. We saw the photos of the rescue attempts at the site, now referred to as Ground Zero. The images of that day and the days to follow will remain with me forever. I still feel the mixed emotions I felt as the news was reported. There was shock and fear. There was horror and sorrow. And over time there has been anger. It still tears at my heart when I hear the stories from people who were directly touched by that day. All of us in America will be forever affected and will remember September 11, 2001.
The following links have more information about the events of 9/11.
September 11 Television Archive
Producer: ABC 7, Washington, D.C.
Production Company: ABC 7, Washington, D.C.
Tribute in Music: ‘Ten Years On‘
A collection of events told through the eyes of those who experienced it.