That day and the following days
It was a beautiful September morning, my younger brother, a fireman, just entered his 2nd marriage three days before in a lovely ceremony which I was a part of at Snug Harbor and this day I was on my way to work. I was heading to the UES Manhattan for my 11-7 shift at the animal hospital and as usual just missed my last express bus so I hopped on a local to catch up at the service road. It was shortly after 9:10am and as I boarded the local a passenger announced that a plane had hit the WTC. I thought, wow, such a clear day, how could a vfr pilot not see such a structure to accidentally clip it? Now closer to 9:30 am as the bus continued past New Dorp towards the service road and ferry another passenger boards stating that a second plane hit the WTC. I asked a 2nd plane?! Immediately intent came to mind then the who and why. I think I had also been told was a jet and not a plane.
The bus approached the service road and as I was about to get off to transfer, the driver told me that they just announced that all entry into Manhattan was closed. I decided to stay on the bus to the ferry to investigate further what was happening. I tried several times to no avail on my cellphone to let co-workers know that I wasn't making it in, apparently the lines were jammed.
As we approached closer towards the ferry I could see the two towers aflame in the distance and smoking like two lit cigarettes. Just before reaching the terminal I saw a familiar place that I knew had a pay phone that I could call from so I rang for the stop just past it. As I got off the bus I had stopped to stare at the towers in disbelief and at that moment the one on the right that I was facing started to pancake down, glass and debris flying everywhere. My jaw dropped and I started to cry knowing all the people in and around the area then ran back to the bus which was about to pull away banging on the door and yelling to the driver that the tower was down!! He immediately stopped, opened the door and ran out to see. We both stared in disbelief.
I then crossed the street to head to the pay phone at the Cargo Cafe and a boatload of passengers just came off the boat from downtown. I couldn't believe what I saw, people covered in ash from head to toe, men crying, it was upsetting. As I neared the Cafe, I ran into an acquaintance that I had previously met on the ferry. He had also been heading to work at a photo booth at one of the top floors of one of the towers and never made it in. We both walked into the Cargo where they had two TV's with the news. One was covering downtown Manhattan and the other was covering Washington DC. It was then that I learned that the mall they kept talking about was the Washington Mall and Pentagon and that we were being attacked at our Capitol too.
I finally got through to work and and the girl who answered had a husband on the police force so she knew a little of what was happening. I was crying telling her how bad it was downtown and that I witnessed the first tower collapse in front of me as well as not being able to make it in. She said that they knew and that fighter jets were flying up and down the East River and could smell the odor of the burning. We wished each other health and safety and I then called home.
Apparently my Mom was very upset learning of what happened from my Dad's sister who had called asking where everyone was and if okay and hadn't known that I didn't make it in, she was relieved to hear from me. I myself was wondering about my niece who worked at Deutsche Bank downtown to find out later that she never made it and was stopped in Brooklyn with the closings thank God. I let my Mom know that I was heading home staying a little while longer to watch the news frightened of what would happen next, with us and the world. I just couldn't digest the wickedness and planning of such an atrocity.
As we watched a little longer the second tower had pancaked down on the news. I knew then that things would be forever different. I also wondered how the ones who planned this brazen and thoughtless act of unfathomable evil didn't consider the consequences of a country that would not just let it go, to as they say " pull the tail of a sleeping lion". As I bid goodbye to Ilkay wishing him safety I remembered on my way home that I had a National Disaster Medical System card as a VMAT. I wanted to help and originally joined the program to help rescue pets/animals in times of a Natural Disaster. This time I was using it to find people trapped in debris.
It was the only way I could get on the boat to volunteer my help downtown.
After arriving home I planned to go in the next day. I learned that my brother the fireman was called in to help overnight and my brother a machine operator for sanitation was helping out with debris. The next day with my card in hand I set out for the ferry. As I boarded the boat I ran into fireman crossing over too. One fireman named Egan was going to find his brother, also a fireman who he had made a shift switch with, as I wished him luck finding him he handed me a mask saying that I was going to need it.
As I got off the boat before me was apocalyptic. It was how I imagined Pompeii after the volcanic eruption, eerily quite, ash all over 2-3 inches thick, time stood still, life just stopped , a bike left leaning against a storefront.
The burning smell was bad. I walked a little further and ran into a State Trooper down with his dog and we both wondered who was in charge and where to report. He mentioned that he saw a few triage stations set up and off I went to find them. As I passed the Burger King I saw some first responders carrying a man out of some rubble. He may have been a first responder himself. He was on a stretcher and looked like he may have had a broken leg, his eyes were dilated like charger plates probably seeing all the devastation around him. He was the only person that I saw found alive. I found one triage station that was soon an eyewash station since there wasn't anyone to triage.
A young fireman approached me with some donated fluids asking where to set them down, he looked so saddened and defeated. Another triage station was set up at Brooks Brothers and I learned from a doctor there that a temporary morgue was set up there too. As I waited I began to realize that there wouldn't be any triage. I left and ran into a veterinarian who drove in from Ohio to help out. He told me that a Suffolk County ASPCA truck was stationed over on West Street and we both headed there. They were in need of supplies so I called up to the hospital and asked for anything they could donate.
Garvy the head offered help and myself and the veterinarian went uptown to get them and we all went back down together. The remainder of my time there I helped at the SPCA truck on West Street with the search and rescue/cadaver dogs. I was needed at work so I used my card to be able to board the ferry, walked up to Canal Street then caught a subway uptown to work. I would work until 7pm then head downtown to Canal Street then walk down to West Street and volunteer until 11pm and catch the 11:30 boat back to Staten Island. I did this for the rest of the month and into the first week of October.
My Mom's sister didn't want me going down anymore saying it wasn't safe. While there I met many wonderful people from all over offering their help. A firehouse from Chicago came to help and set up generators and lights. FEMA arrived that Friday with a team of other VMATS too. I met Sir Paul McCartney that Friday paying his respects to those who lost their lives. He put together the benefit concert soon after his visit. I helped some police officers rescue two Persian cats from a pitch black apartment downtown at the owners request.
Armed with hard hats and flash lights we found them okay though frightened and hungry. I found out how many lives were lost all around me, a funeral almost daily, it was very depressing. Neighbors and first responders. My brothers lungs will never be the same. I pray for him and all the people exposed. I certainly will never forget that day and the ones that followed. It was the solidarity that got us through it all and to today twenty years later.