Saturday, September 13, 2008

Remembering September 11, 2001

These are my recorded observations of September 11, 2001 as a participant on the fringe. They were daily entries posted in a now closed forum entitled Coast Guard Discussions. I chose to update the board members daily as the events unfolded because they posted notes to me concerned about my welfare. Please forgive me if the numbers are wrong or facts are not as they turned out to be. That week was chaos and I wrote down what I observed at the time. It was written at the heat of the moment. Every so often, I think about makng a lot of corrections to this mini diary. But in the end, let it stand.


Day 1 - Tuesday, well I made it. What a day! I will never ever forget it. Just 6 weeks ago, I worked on liberty street 5 blocks from the Trade Center. I was transferred up town to 299 Park Avenue. The entire episode is completely surreal. In the morning, I had crossed the Hudson on a ferry, Looked down river at the twin towers not giving them a second thought. On the way home 14 hours later, there were no twin towers and a huge plume of black smoke.

I called my colleagues in my old building. It was evacuated because they could not run any systems due to the dust and dirt in the air. They said visibility was only 3 feet and that several bodies were lying in the plaza. Uptown, my building is 4 miles away. We went into our highest alert stage and basically shut the building down; only allowing those who are regarded as essential into the building. Bottom line casualties (news reports) are 200 fire fighters, 35 cops, about 8 to 10,000 people in the trade center. Population was estimated to be 20,000 at the time of the attack. We should strike quick and hard, teach those b@stard$ that they can't take us down. I had to rally the staff and keep them going. They wanted to go home but I reminded them our tenants were looking to us as an example. Show those terrorists that your routine will go on inspite of their attacks. The Coast Guard did a great job. They commandeered all boats, tugs, barges and fireboats. Turned them into ferries to get people out of Manhattan. It was like Dunkirk all over again. I finally got across the river late in the evening. As I drove home, I passed a lit sign on the New Jersey Turnpike. It said "All bridges and tunnels into NYC closed until further notice due to terrorist attack. I was speechless, it felt like I was in the middle of a grade B horror movie.

Day 2 This morning on the way in smoke was still billowing from the site but now its white smoke. Last night, a third building 7 World Trade collapsed. A fourth is on the verge though the FDNY thinks it is under control. The last piece of the twin towers collapsed about 5:30 today. Earlier in the day, about 1 o'clock the wind shifted. It had been blowing out to sea. Smoke is now coming out of the south covering Manhattan with a brownish haze and an awful stench. whether it was electric insulation or remains, it was hard to tell, but it was awful, just the same. We were 4 miles up river from the Trade Center and had to close our outside air dampers, the smell was so bad. The city is deathly quiet, bridges and tunnels will reopen tomorrow. Last night it was so still, we heard a cricket on Park Avenue. Now that was probably a first! I am in because I am considered essential to run the business. If you are not essential they don't want you here. I Parked the car in Weehawken and took the ferry across. The city is like a ghost town; a lot of people are traumatized by what happened. I continue to push the staff. I don't want them to think about it. Cut back on the radios and TV. Dwelling on the matter won't help them. The city is closed down on the East side from 34th street to the battery and on the west side from 42nd Street to the battery. 7th avenue is reserved for ambulances. I see NYC police cars, State Troopers, the Army National Guard and even Coasties all around me. We have left over free sandwiches and juice from lunch. The cafeteria gave meals to those of us who are staying in the city, seeing it through these terrible hours. We called the police and asked them if they wanted the food. They came with a van, thanked us and headed back down town with a load of sandwiches for the rescuers/searchers. I still don't believe this happened. It feels like a dream. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow and see the Twin Towers standing tall by Chase Plaza and 40 Wall Street? Then again....

This is Day 3 after the attack of the Twin Towers. As I crossed the Hudson this morning, I looked at where they once were, smoke still billowing upwards from fires still burning. It was a very odd feeling but as the smoke rose and was penetrated by the sunlight, it turned into a beautiful rose-colored layer underneath a sky blue as can be with no clouds.

The GW Bridge and the Lincoln tunnel are now open. The NY Waterway Ferries are running, but the Staten Island Ferry is still being used to carry supplies and rescuers to the site and taking bodies away. People are coming back into the city in an attempt to show the terrorists that life will go on. Walking down the street toward my building I was struck by the silence and watched people for a moment. Everyone had a grim look on their face, no smiles, and no chatter, just set jaws. I queued up at the steps to get in the building (even though I was the property manager) showing my ID card and presenting my brief case for a search. After that the day went all to hell. A colleague came to me and told me that a mutual friend of ours had just been promoted to Chief Engineer in the Twin towers. His office was on the 86th floor. The first plane hit one tower. He called his wife to assure her that the plane had hit the other tower and that he was OK. In mid sentence, the phone call was cut short and my friend perished as the second one hit the tower he was in. I went to my office feeling very numb. Shortly thereafter, I received a call that the 29th floor was evacuating. A strobe light from the Class E (Fire Alarm) had turned on. They all panicked and self evacuated. We got them back in the building. A short time later, I received another call that the entire building was evacuating. We had made no announcements, we received no bomb threats but everyone was so on edge that a rumor was started in a building south of us had had a bomb in it. Before you knew it there were thousands of people in the streets from 4 buildings all evacuated by rumor and fear. We called up corporate headquarters and asked what did they want us to do. The reply was let everybody go home. Then we found out that we have to have a vacant floor ready by Monday for a firm that lost all of its office space in the Trade Center. One thing that I am grateful for is the generosity of the people in this country. There were fire engines here from Chicago and Flint Michigan; these guys were here on their own time to help with the rescue efforts. There are over 300 police, firemen and EMS techs missing. People are already donating to widows and orphan's funds for each group. So many people are donating blood that they are being turned away. They have enough for now. It is going to be this kind of spirit and teamwork that will eventually bring those murdering cowards down on their knees. I understand the value of up yours to the terrorists, but if you are a civilian and never went through harrowing experiences as a veteran would have, you can be fragile. The tenants broke and ran at any given opportunity. I think the mayor should close the city down until Monday to give everyone a chance to get it together. Right now authorities think that 2 more buildings may be weak and may come down. Tomorrow the closed down zone is supposed to shrink back to Canal Street. All day I was too busy to think about my dead friend. I went home, walked up the stairs and just hugged my wife. It was the first time I had a chance to display any emotion since Tuesday morning.

Day 4 - Once more I cross the Hudson River entering this bloodied city. Today is different, It is raining and raining hard, the sky line has been erased by low lying fog, but you can still see that unmistakable plume of white smoke rising from the ashes of the World Trade Center. The sky is gray the river choppy. Somehow I feel like I'm crossing the River Styx into a land of death and destruction, not knowing what will happen today. Last night approximately 10 would-be terrorists were caught at JFK Airport, one had a fake pilot ID, most of the others had knives. Looks like we may have averted another wave of attacks. At this moment all three area airports are locked down. I never would have thought it before. Now I welcome the idea of posting armed guards in the airports.In the midst of this turmoil, people are attempting to return to a degree of normalcy. The Building Painters wanted to finish a job tonight. I canceled it. We will need all our resources to get the 29th floor ready for occupancy for two of the companies made homeless by the suicide attack on Tuesday. We will be working all weekend to have a new space ready for these folks. Havoc reigns supreme because we don't let any vendor in the building unless previously approved by the tenant. We canceled some preventive maintenance on electrical switches over the weekend, again because all resources are directed toward providing a new home for these homeless firms.

Baseball and Football will not be played this weekend. I have mixed feelings about that. Not playing the games is a signal to the terrorists that they made a dent into the fabric of this country. FDR continued baseball and football as an attempt to continue daily life in the states during the Second World War to help keep morale up. As of today, the official count of missing is 4,717. The city has ordered 30,000 body bags for anticipated 10,000 deaths, the remaining bags being for body parts. The search is being hampered by the wet weather. Incredibly two of the searchers are building engineers that survived the collapse and have now gone back to search for their colleagues. People in this city just will not give up. New Yorkers are a resilient group of people as are the hundreds of rescuers that have come from out of state. We will not surrender to terrorist activity, that much is certain.

Waiting for the Ferry, I noted three Coast Guard Cutters in the river. They were stopping all traffic because the President was at Jacob Javits Center a couple of blocks away. No ferries for the next three hours. The dispatcher finally made an announcement “There will be no ferries, buses or traffic until further notice, what else can I say.” I had already waited two hours. As aggravated as everyone was, we all had a good laugh. My back was to the water. Suddenly, there was a hush in the crowd. I turned around to see a huge white ship in front of me. The biggest hospital ship I ever saw slowly glided by, the USNS Comfort was a majestic sight, pure white with three red crosses painted on her immense hull. Of course everyone knew what she was here for and we all fell silent, puncuated by a few sobs and sharp intakes of breath; watching her glide past us to her berth further up river. Every so often a group of rescue workers would show up to take the Ferry home. As we were stuck there so were they. It gave us a chance to show our appreciation and whenever a group of them passed through, we stood up and just clapped. What else could you do? Then finally the President left and we caught the ferry to Lincoln Harbor to be on our way home.

Day 5 - We are all set to move in one of the survivor companies tomorrow and the other two on Tuesday. We have to keep pushing on but it’s hard. The Fire Department gave battlefield promotions to 168 men to insure that things keep going. Con Edison has had 1900 men going around the clock to make sure everyone's work place is habitable tomorrow. They tested the stock market systems and they all worked. Relief funds are being set up all over the place. I live in Rockland County, North of New York. The towns of Pearl River and Suffern were especially hard hit by the blast. They had a lot of firemen and policemen in those towns. Right now the missing total keeps rising. At last count it was 5,097. They have identified about 200 bodies and no one has been found alive since Wednesday. I had to turn off the radio after awhile. How many memorial services, funerals and updates do you have to absorb before you go nuts. I thought about revenge a lot over the last several days. But what will that accomplish. Bush scares me with his "If you are in uniform, get ready," talk. We need to do this calmly and rationally. Everybody from our generation knows one thing. We cannot count on our politicians, they are too fickle. We can't count on the American public because they scream revenge but if they get called up or drafted their tune will change mighty quick. No we have to this in a way that will keep most of America's hands clean. We have to get special ops to go in and assassinate every leader of every cell around the world. That way, innocent civilians will not be targets. A friend of mine said the other day, let's bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. What will that accomplish? They are not far from the Stone Age now. Less casualties on our side + less casualties of their civilians = Black ops, pure and simple.

It’s been a couple of days since I had a chance to jot down anything. We have been very busy setting up a couple of floors for former tenants of the trade center. I have made frequent trips to the floors handing out my business cards telling them to call facilities if they need the slightest thing etc. They are supposed to finish moving in next week after which we will conduct fire safety drills, bomb scare lectures, evacuation drills, etc. The mood of the city I would say is somber but determined. People are very subdued. Not much honking of horns or cursing at wayward cabdrivers is happening. People seem to be extraordinarily polite to one another.

I went to my refrigerant reclamation class last Tuesday at the Union hall. The week prior to the tragedy, jocularity abounded. Everyone came in this past Tuesday, not a word was spoken. Local 94 set up a widows and orphans fund for the 4 engineers killed; one was my friend that I told you about earlier. Our instructor had to go to a memorial service for his brother in law killed on the 104th floor. As of now 6,333 are missing, the total is still climbing. The President of France was here today and was stunned by what he saw. The other day, rescuers opened up a void and found several people arms linked in a circle, all dead. They say they are removing 4,000 body parts daily. They have two refrigerated tractor-trailers hauling them from the sites to morgues for ID purposes. A smoky haze hanging over lower Manhattan has replaced the once vigorous billowing smoke plume. But every day, we manage trudge back and forth to work. The stock exchange is up and running. Kudos to Con Edison for that. That in it was a victory, forget market performance. Heroics of all kinds happen daily here just to keep the city going. Those terrorists think they are tough? They have not felt the wrath of a pissed off New Yorker yet!!

USS NEW YORK LPH-21 Portions of this vessel were made from the beams of the Destroyed World Trade Center.

1 comment:

Aiobhell said...

Just came across this...pretty sobering. I'm still so glad your office moved.