"I’ve never been so scared": Views from ground zero
October 1, 2001
I have nothing vital to say this week, other than to add my laments to the millions of others.
I have stories to share, however. These were submitted to The Record-Courier in the days after Sept. 11.
They are stories from people who were there: a businessman and his colleague, who had expected to spend two days working with a client in New York; a New Yorker trying to return to the city from Ohio; and two residents who wrote to let their friends and loved ones know they were OK.
I haven’t included their names. One asked not to be identified, and the others came third-hand, and I’m not sure if they wanted to be identified. But their stories are significant.
One of the New York residents was at home when the first plane hit.
“At first I was stunned, but not altogether surprised that a plane might’ve hit the towers, because that is every New Yorker’s nightmare,” he wrote. “And then when the second plane hit, it became evident something very strange was going on…
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“Two friends of mine who worked downtown, fortunately, went to work late in the morning and have their lives. The rest of us are just zombies now.”
Another resident wrote of smoke, police barricades and combat troops in the streets as military jets roared overhead.
“When someone recognizes you as a neighbor, they come to you and hug you,” he wrote.
“Our neighbor, a teacher at a school with a perfect view of the towers, told me her kids on one side of the class saw the first hit, then the rest watched as the second plane came in. There were cries of ‘my (daddy or mommy) works there.’ Nearly 40 kids failed to be picked up at the end of the day.”
Another resident stopped to offer help and food at a fire station.
“The room where the trucks are usually parked was filled with maybe 50 firemen. I’ve never seen more tired human beings in my life,” he observed.
The street was chaotic.
“I’ve never been so scared in my life,” he wrote. “People were jumping from the buildings to their death(s). I don’t know if they thought death would be better like that than burning, or if they thought they could actually survive the fall…”
The businessman and his colleague had taken the train from Baltimore to New York in anticipation of their meeting. They were signing a visitor’s log at their client’s office and waiting for an escort upstairs when the first plane hit.
“I heard a loud noise and the building trembled,” he recalled. “Everyone that I could see through the glass doors was looking upwards to the west with astonished expressions on their faces. Once outside, I looked up to my right and what I saw was incomprehensible…
“I asked one of the people in the crowd what happened and he said a commercial airplane had crashed into the side of the building. I heard him, but could not comprehend what he had told me…It couldn’t have been a plane.
“It was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced. It happened so quickly, and yet it was like slow motion.”
The man and his colleague walked until they found a cab that took them to the George Washington Bridge. They hopped into a delivery truck with about 20 others for the trip across to New Jersey. Meanwhile, a coworker had arranged a rental car for the pair, if they could get to it by 5:30 p.m. A nurse graciously offered them a ride, and they made it home, then to a church, where the writer found his wife and family at a special service.
“As I sat there, I got one of the many messages that God wanted me to have that day,” he concluded. “It was this: ‘We are powerless without Him.’ The other message was to be thankful for the many little angels he had sent my way that day. They came in the form of a friend named Ed, a cabby from Haiti, a delivery truck driver, a nurse named Sarah and a co-worker named Andy.”
n Christy Chalmers is The Record-Courier’s News Editor.