9/11 World Trade Centre attack

On September 11, 2001, DJ and I were working and living in New York.  My office at The Broadway Archive was located in a building at the base of the North Tower, at 30 West Broadway.  I slept in that Tuesday morning, and woke to news of the attack starting.  My office was cut in half, and I was first allowed back into the site 2 days after the attack to retrieve essential things that may not have been destroyed.  Mostly remaining were part of computers (trying to salvage hard drives) but most of the archives were gone.   Later I had several visits to the site to retrieve more.  DJ’s cousin who was in the North Tower died that day, along with a friend who managed Windows on the World at the top of WTC 1.  2 days prior, I had taken my father to the building and took photos of him looking up the towers.

DIARY NOTES FROM NEW YORK

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001:

Thank-you for your thoughts.  What a wonderful outpouring from friends from around the world concerned about us.  We truly appreciate and were touched by your concern.

For those that have tried to call, thanks for trying, but only a small percentage of calls are getting through to us even in NJ.  Both of us will be downtown again all day tomorrow. Unfortunately, since phones don’t work, it’s weird and eerie being so out of communication.

We are all safe, Gizmo and Rocky included. Fortunately, we had a power blackout on Tuesday morning, my alarm clock did not go off, and I slept in -by the time I was preparing to leave for my world trade centre office for a regular Tuesday morning staff meeting, I heard of the disaster.

DJ was already downtown, but fortunately, he was on 39th street, a fair way from the world trade centre, although he saw the smoke, and smelt it.  He called me at home to let me know.

DJ then spent the next 7 hours getting out of Manhattan, with everything sealed, he caught a ferry to Hoboken, prior to the ferries being commandeered as emergency hospital boats to move the injured to NJ hospitals.  From Hoboken, he hitched a ride on the back of a pickup truck with others from the area, then walked to Newark, then caught a lift from Newark to home.

I have spent the better part of the day trying to account for all our staff, and neighbors, which are all now reported safe.

My office adjoined WTC7 (which collapsed at 6pm), which is at the northern base of WTC1 which fell at 10:30am over the top of our building.

We knew several people working in WTC1, some on very high floors, above the initial plane impact point, so we are anxiously awaiting news. DJ’s cousin alas is one of these.  His cousin was in Manhattan from Canada, for a financial meeting this morning on the 106th floor of WTC1 at Windows on the World – between 8:50am and 8:55am, he called his mother in Canada to say that he was on the 106th floor, it was filling with smoke, and did not feel he was going to get out.  We have not heard from him since.

Unfortunately, we fear that every New Yorker will have similar stories, with 50,000 people working in the buildings, everyone is going to know someone.

Just two days ago, I toured Dad and Leslie through my World Trade Centre office, and Leslie lay on the concrete at the base of the towers and I took photos.

For the next few weeks at least, I’ll only be using my Times Square Nederlander office, and likely, due to the difficulties in getting in and out of Manhattan (the path train station — only train access between NJ and NY was in the base of the WTC, and no longer exists), I’ll be working more from home in NJ.

We are donating blood in the morning, and planning on volunteering afterwards.  The city and its people, have quite remarkably transformed in the past 12 hours into caring, compassionate, and wanting to help.

Our thoughts are with everyone, everywhere.

UPDATE: THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 13, 2001:

I won’t waste time on the extraordinary news each 15 minutes today – copy cat stupidity of potential hijackings today from both JFK and LGA created fear beyond belief.

DJ and I spent a few hours getting downtown today – since the train we take from NJ to NY no longer exists, today we drove to the Hudson river, took the ferry across (the only way to get into the city currently).  Bomb scares are abounding – indeed, while we were on the ferry heading across to midtown, midtown areas around Times Square were evacuated with multiple bomb threats (clearly timed to coincide with each other) at Penn Station, Empire State Building, and multiple high-rise buildings surrounding Times Square, including 1450 Broadway, my uptown office for Nederlander. All in all, over 90 bombs scares today throughout downtown.

As a result, mass transit service was stopped, and so we walked for 8 miles today, from the ferry terminal to Times Square, then down to the 14th Street non-resident restriction line and police checkpoint – where we were given permission to enter and go south to Canal Street, since I had my WTC business cards, and they treated us as a resident of the area.

We were allowed to get within 15 blocks of my old office (non-residents are not allowed below 14th street – about 40 blocks away) – but even so far away, the carnage is everywhere.  Ash, smoke and this incredible, unique smell – like burning plastic, which is actually the residue of jet fuel and molten steel.  Our throats hurt when breathing. The scene was surreal.

The streets are bare. Really bare – DJ and I immediately noticed the absolute silence of the city – no cabs honking, sirens, yelling.  No people pushing, no crowds of tourists or street vendors – as the photos will show, 7th Avenue was bear – no cars, few people.  Army aircraft including helicopters and F-16s fly overhead.  Military hummers, trucks and mini tanks are throughout the city – the army are controlling the streets, armed with machine guns.  It’s a strange sight and reminds me so much of London during the Poll Tax riots and IRA bombings when living there in 1991/1992 – but on a much larger scale.

Much of the city has stayed indoors or fled. literally.  A lot of younger people are so naturally freaked and spooked by the events they are frightened to return and are giving up.   Counseling will be necessary for so many people.

DJ and I are frankly still in a state of shock and disbelief I guess, in a very real way.  I’m not ashamed to admit, and perhaps it’s because I am a Brit, but for the FIRST time I cried today, when watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace today, for the first time in history, playing the Star-Spangled Banner – an amazing sight and sound of solidarity.

After visiting the site downtown, we headed to the victims services areas, and in particular the city morgue set up at the Chelsea Pier ice skating rink to try to glean information on DJ’s cousin.  It’s almost assuredly bad news.  It’s expected that the thousands of people trapped in the buildings were likely pulverized – 1250 feet of building now sits in a pile about 30 feet tall.  The morgue has body bags lined up, some with only fingers or other body parts in separate bags.  I think it’s going to take years to identify remains through DNA.

The television pictures simply cannot convey the shear horror, scale and scope of the carnage – over 100 building surrounding the WTC complex are destroyed or damaged – either fires, structural damage or total collapse.  Thousands of residents are displaced.  Pets have lost their owners and walking the streets alone, No telephone service exists in pockets of Manhattan – our own home phone is sporadic (no outgoing calls) – my cell phone only works while in NJ – within NYC – no cell phone service works.  The bulk of the internet servers and hubs for most of Manhattan were located in the WTC – as a result, the vast majority of Manhattan has no internet access.  Direct TV and Satellite TV is out completely in the entire region (receivers/repeaters were on the roof of the WTC2), The NASDAQ’s headquarters were in WTC5 – now destroyed.  No electricity or gas south of 14th Street – affecting thousands of people.  There are 975,000 hotel rooms in the city – and approximately 2 million displaced persons including tourists – private citizens are billeting – hotels are doubling rooms, numerous shelters are setup – victims families cannot find accommodations – it’s the mass of the small things and issues facing new yorkers and tourists that add up to massive complexity, but without frustration – only understanding.

Whenever a plane flys overhead, EVERYONE looks up immediately in concern.  A slamming door, or car driving over a manhole cover make people physically jump and turn.  The city is nervous awaiting whatever is next, with a belief that it’s not over yet.

We’ve applied for FEMA and SBA assistance for Broadway Digital Entertainment (our WTC office) – we have been offered free temporary office space from several companies, but frankly, without years of paperwork, contracts, computer data — and staff — we are trying to decide what to do.  So many businesses are expected to fold if they have not already.  Midway Airlines already fired all 1,900 employees on Wednesday, and ceased operations, since the grounding of all planes was a cost they could not bear – so many are expected to follow.  Continental Airlines will likely fire 1,800 employees tomorrow, and all airlines are expecting at least a 20% cutback.

I wish I could capture the smell and experience for you in some way – alas, photos are as a good as I can get. Maybe pictures and maps will put this in a little more perspective….

I’ve assembled some photos we took today, (while volunteering in and around the areas between Canal street and 14th Street) – we could not enter the 15 block radius debris field area, however, you’ll get a glimpse of some interesting NYC scenes, out of the public areas…

UPDATE: SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2001

We were downtown all-day Friday, however, not by choice.  We left at 10am and got downtown relatively quickly around 12:30pm by ferry (normally we have a 25 minute commute).

DJ’s cousin is still ‘missing’. The city emergency services cannot provide much assistance, and we are obviously prepared for the expected.  Between completing 10 page victims reports, walking from hospital to hospital, and talking with others, it’s an exhausting process.  All living John Doe’s in hospitals have now been identified.  Alas, the city officials are now warning families and friends that the missing may never be recovered, due to the force of impact of the collapse of the building, and the heat of the fire.

We tried leaving the city be ferry across the Hudson at 3pm, however, due to a combination of factors (Bush’s visit, river closing, tunnel closing, mass transit closings, NJ arrests of suspects and the Hospital ship arriving, we stood outside at the ferry dock for 5 hours before getting to the other side.  From then, it was about an hour through traffic and security checks to get home at 10:30pm – total of 7 hour commute – but no complaints. 

My cell phone sprang back into action this afternoon too – while waiting on the pier with thousands of others – my Sister Mandy phoned from Australia – alas, we got cut off about 5 minutes into the call – sorry Mandy!  It happened about the same time Bush’s helicopter took off from the Pier a couple of hundred yards south, so it wasn’t my fault!  What was nice about the long wait – was that we were 2 of approximately 3,000 people waiting for the ferry – so over time, we started smiling, and talking — for many, it was the first time they had smiled since Tuesday morning.  We had nothing better to do than to look at the fighter jets circling the city.

The city is starting to change it’s mood from shock and disbelief to mourning and anger.  Funerals started Friday.  Grieving is slowing down, and people are starting to gain strength with the intention of getting back to normal.

Our office staff are meeting uptown tomorrow to come up with a plan.  With no office, files, computers, contracts, cheques, banking records, invoices and bills, master tapes etc.. etc… it will be rather a daunting process.

UPDATE: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2001

Well the city is trying to get back to normal.  However, several bridges, tunnels and transit services remain closed.  The Lincoln Tunnel however is open – however, every car, van and truck are subject to security checks – as a result, huge delays for people to get into and out of the city. What would normally take 25 minutes to commute into the city, this morning took 5 hours.  Traffic was backed up for miles.  I’ve chosen to not use the tunnels for the time being, since, frankly, we don’t know what will happen next, and since the delays are so long, however, the ONLY other route in is via the ferry, and it’s port is next to the Lincoln Tunnel – as a result, any and all NJ commuters need to navigate through to the Tunnel area.  The ferries are super busy, with additional ferries brought in from from other states to help with the load.

Nothing else really to report, other than some new photos of the Hospital Ship “Comfort”, and some more shots of the city.

All our love to everyone, everywhere.

UPDATE: March, 2002

DJ and I attended a memorial at ground zero, marking the 6-month anniversary. We spent some time at the family viewing platform, and family memorials, where DJ placed a teddy bear holding a Canadian and US flag with a candle, and then we went over to the illumination of the WTC Memorial lights – 308,000 watts of brilliant light, shooting up a mile into the sky, in 2 tower formations representing each of the 2 primary WTC complex buildings. The lights were spectacular, and literally reached into the heavens – it was an incredible feeling standing at it’s base and looking up at infinity. A wonderful way to remember my friends, and DJ’s cousin lost in the disaster. I only hope that the memorial may become a permanent fixture in the NY skyline.  Review our latest photos of the WTC, chronology of the events and cleanup, including the new light memorial.