September 11th started like any other school day, I got up at 7, then 7:15, 7:20,and so on (IM not a morning person) I had a test in my 9:00 class and was preoccupied worrying about failing it. I left with my roommate Justin and a girl from our class, and headed to the subway. We must have gotten out of the subway minutes before the first plane hit. I know this because we would have seen the smoke and chaos in the streets had it have been 2 minutes later. The Trade centers and the surrounding area is visible from that spot. We arrived in class a little before 9 and nothing seemed out of the ordinary…About 5 minutes in, one of my classmates came running in and apologizing for being late but “a plane crashed into the World Trade Center” everyone was thinking a small aircraft accident, not a jumbo jet terrorist attack. The next 15 minutes weren’t a big deal, we still didn’t know the US was under attack (in a way) It was then that we heard about the second tower being hit and the Pentagon.
Mass Chaos…everyone was running out of school, and the streets were something straight out of a movie. At first, there was the feeling that I could at least use someone’s cell phone to let people I was OK…..they didn’t work….next step was the payphones…..the lines to use them were unimaginable….stores were allowing people to use their phones, but all lines were dead…I started to panic…I knew my mom would be a mess…she didn’t know where my school was in aspect of the WTC (about 25-30 blocks). We could see the cloud of smoke filling the sky. Me, Justin and a few others ran down Lafayette Ave. towards the towers to see if there was anything we could do to help. A man parked his car in the street, rolled down his windows, and let 50 or so people listen to the news… It was then that we learned that the second tower fell. Strangers were hugging each other, many cried…the city was coming together, when a part of it was falling apart.
Our way down consisted of making sure we didn’t get run over….traffic lights seemed to be non-existent…nobody used them…everyone wanted out. We watched cops commandeer taxi cabs, busses (you name it) and used them to head down there. Everyone was moving out of the area, and we were running in. I managed to get a disposable camera (thanks Adam) and took some pictures. Cars were covered in ash….It was crazy.
We got a couple blocks away from the towers (or where they used to be), threw down our bags, and did what we could to help. Because we were some of the first people to start the volunteer work, we were on the inside of everything…people stood around grasping the yellow police tape that blocked them out while watching us work on setting up the makeshift hospital and morgue. We started out passing out water to the crowd and some of the very lucky individuals that got out in time. A few medical workers sent us to the local jail to get supplies. Blankets, medical gear etc. We were running in the middle of the street with all this gear strapped to a stretcher. It was odd, these streets were filled with cars just an hour earlier.
We were prepared for the worst, and had no idea how many people or bodies would be sent to us. Little did we know that most of these people were so far under the rubble that even as I type this letter a day later, only 9 survivors and a few casualties were located so far. Although we were suppose to be the help station for people trapped in the buildings, we wound up helping some of those who got out early with minor injuries.
The time then came for volunteers for search and rescue…I wanted to do this…I didn’t know how I or any of the others would hold up with what we would see, but you stay strong in situations like that. The Gap donated ties to act as a tourniquet. they passed out masks and gloves…...we loaded a city bus (to the max) and headed right into ground zero…People on the bus began to pray, we all came together. People I never thought I’d have a conversation with in a million years were standing right next to me, holding my hand. We all had the same goal, to help, and survive doing so. It was like a war zone…ash 2 feet off the ground, papers scattered everywhere, clothes on the ground, cars smashed. God knows how many bodies laid in that ruble, it was like an open tomb. I often wonder if the clothes I saw had any remains left in them, it messes with your mind. I know you saw it on TV, but television lies…you had to be there. It was surreal. I swore it looked like a movie set.
The people who were guiding everyone had no clue where to stop the bus. I kept calling it “organized chaos”. A cop walked on the bus and told the driver to get away from here. The # 7 building was about to crumble. It was right next to us…you could see it completely on fire. we got the hell out of there….they took us off the bus and in-between two buildings. some military guy was giving us orders, sat us on the ground and told us that if it falls, to get in the fetal position. My heart started to pound, you smelt the burning. I couldn’t believe I was there. I couldn’t believe this was what my day quickly turned into. We were told we now had sometime before the # 7 building would fall, we walked a few blocks to the West Side Highway, it was dead. nothing but a few fire trucks and open road. That would soon change.
The Salvation Army put some food in us, most of us haven’t eaten all day. There I saw a man standing next to a building talking to cops. He was in shock, crying, trying to get the words out. His wife was in the tower when it went down. He knew she didn’t get out and he seemed lost in his own mind. You could see he was just in complete disbelief. I couldn’t imagine what he was feeling. I began to get tears in my eyes, my heart sank. I still cant get his face out of my mind. It’s just forever there.
I called my mother and was leaving her a message while I watched #7 fall. Unreal. I couldn’t help but curse on the phone. Fire trucks were quickly dispatched, it will still burn for hours…we weren’t allowed back to ground zero now…it was to dangerous…we sat, and waited, and waited…during the wait we were given medical lessons. What to do if someone’s intestines were out, what to do if a limb was missing, what to do for burns, shock, spinal injury. How to perform CPR, fix a punctured lung. It suddenly became so real to me. Justin and I just stood there in shock listening, comforting each other. We looked at each other and knew exactly what was going on in each of our heads. We were scared. This was unreal, absolute chaos. We then sat watching the pro’s go in, and come out covered in ash and in complete shock IM sure. I will never forget a firefighter that stood next to me up against the wall, put his head down, and just wept. A grown man, who IM sure has seen some horrible things in the past, crying. Could I do this? I was now doubting myself. With the firemen came their trucks, many of them towed and covered in ash. I think it caused the engines to seize. I remember seeing office blinds and documents hanging off one of the trucks. There was nothing left to do but watch in awe as the city burned. I stayed till midnight or so…now 14 hours in…I was cold and drained…I felt like I should stay, but I know I did my part. I did all that I could and was proud. I hope that doesn’t sound cocky, but it’s true. IM so glad that I contributed to this horrific part of history. I want to be able to tell my kids that I helped in that time of need.
During the whole day I had no clue about the details of all of this. It was right in my face but had no idea exactly what went on till I got back in my apartment. This wasn’t until around 2 in the morning. I turned on the TV and for the first time saw what happened. I couldn’t believe it. It was like something out of a movie. I know I keep saying it, but…IM the film major. It was all shock to me until I saw the video of a man falling out. I lost it. It hit home way to hard. I stayed up till 5 or 6 and just cried that whole time. I went through this, IM stronger because of this. All I ask is that we keep all those involved in our prayers, and if any of you are directly affected I will keep you personally in mine.