Below is the email letter that I sent to my immediate family two days after 9/11. It details what I saw and what life was like in New York in the days immediately after 9/11. This email was written on September 13, 2001 at 4pm.
Right now the phones in New York are behaving sporadically. Sometimes I can call out. Sometimes I cannot. There are also ongoing bomb threats that are leading to buildings everywhere being evacuated, so I am not sure how long I will remain at work either. So, just to update you all, I am going to explain what happened to me, where I am staying now and all that.
For starters, I am ok. I am pretty shaken up, as could be expected, but I am ok.
What happened: On Tuesday morning, I wokeup at 8:30 and brushed my teeth and put in my contacts as usual. When I came up to my living room, I looked out the window and saw people on the street pointing and starting at the WTC. I stepped out on my balcony to see but I could not see the tower. I asked my neighbor, who was on his half of our balcony, and he didn’t know. Then he got a phone call of someone telling him a plane had hit one of the WTC towers.
At this point I ran inside, got dressed quickly, grabbed my camera and a roll of film and ran outside. When I got out across the street, I looked up and saw the first tower in flames. I took a couple pictures on Fulton street of that view.. With only the north tower burning.. After 2-3 pictures and 2-3 blocks closer, the second plane hit the south tower. I saw that with my own eyes. I did not see the plane hit the building since I was on the north east side. What I saw was the middle part of the building explode outward. To me it looked like a bomb had exploded inside. At this point everyone on Fulton Street started running east, towards the seaport. I for some reason, decided to run west, to get closer and get a better view. I know. I am insane.
I ran in to Broadway and Dey, which is about 1 block east of the WTC and started taking pictures. I scampered up and down the north east corner by Broadway for a while, taking pictures and watching. The police were not stopping people from running in closer and I could have gone in more, but I stopped from 1/2 block to 1 block away on the north/east side. While there I took pictures of rescue workers and police running in and the people watching the towers. While there I also saw jumpers. I was so disconnected from it all that I even took a picture of one of them. Right now, those people falling, that is an image in my brain that I can’t get out.
I started to run out of film at about the same time a female officer started pushing people across Broadway saying “they could collapse.. back up.” This is the first time anyone said anything about them collapsing and I remember thinking “bah… they aren’t collapsing.” Then I overheard someone saying that the second plane had broken in half when it hit the south tower and that if you went down there, you could see it.
So, since everyone was buying film and cameras from the drug stores, I decided to run back to the film store by my place, buy more film, and then head down to see the plane. I bought 2 more rolls and then ran down. I darted in and out of the streets to take some pictures as I went south. I finally got down to Trinity Church which is around Wall Street and Broadway and then I went north on Broadway to take pictures. I was by the Liberty park which is 1 block catty-corner south east of the WTC taking pictures for a while. Then I saw an empty street, so I darted down that which took me more west.
At this point I was on Rector Street or so, 1 block center-south of the WTC. I had crossed/escaped the police lines at this point. (I know. Brilliant.) I ran into this crazy women with a disposable camera who told me, in her crazy voice, “you won’t believe the pictures I have. If you go up there some more, you can see bodies and body parts.” Since this is not something I wanted to see or capture on film, I took a picture or two from where I was and then darted west one more block for a different view. I took some more pictures and started to go south some more. I went down 2 more blocks and I had an amazing view of the south tower, very visibly where the plane had hit it, burning against the most perfect blue sky. The sky was amazingly blue. I was taking pictures from this angle and looking up, in the midst of a very stupefied but calm crowd. I was 3 blocks or so south of the WTC… when all of the sudden the south tower started to collapse.
I looked at it collapsing for a second and I thought “take a picture” but then I thought “no! run!” and I started running south. I ran about 2-3 blocks and I was still thinking “take a picture” so I turned my head over my left shoulder to see how it looked… and up above me, 10 feet back, was the HUGE black cloud of smoke and dust that you have seen on TV. It was about to overcome me… I grabbed my sweater (which was tied around my waist), started breathing through it and realized that at any moment, I would lose visibility entirely. This woman next to me started freaking out, screaming, and standing there. I gave her part of my sweater to breathe through, she asked me to lead her away. I told her to follow the sweater with me. I grabbed the chain link fence to follow to walk south and then it went completely black… I followed the fence hoping to get to the park which should be soon. Finally I saw some light and went towards it.
We came out into the park and everyone started puking and spitting the dust out all over. People were washing themselves off in the fountain water. I saw two bottles of water just sitting there on the ground, nobody taking them, so I grabbed one, rinsed out my mouth and had a drink… I went to the walkway by the water where it was clearer air and people were freaking out everywhere. I gave everyone near me some water, shared my inhaler with a woman having an asthma attack and everyone started wondering where to go. From where I was, I looked up and could see how bad the smoke and dust was and it was all going south, over the end of the island at Battery Park. I said we should go north since the smoke was all going south.. so we started that way.
While we were walking in the cloudiness, the fighter planes roared overhead. Since we could not see them, we all started screaming and freaking out, thinking more planes were going to crash into us. It was terrifying. We kept going north on the west side, but the police were forcing everyone to go south instead. It made no sense. There would be no place to go and we’d be underneath all the smoke and dust. But we had no choice. So I walked south to the end of the island.
While in Battery Park, I sent emails (via my email pager… the cellphone wouldn’t work) to my dad and to my friend Jesse to tell them where I was and ask what was going on in the news and if they were saying where we should go… Around this time we all started hearing about the Pentagon getting hit. I started walking with everyone south/east and towards the Staten Island Ferry. The police were trying to get everyone off the island via the ferry. I knew, though, that if I got on the ferry, there would be no way for me to get back to see if my apartment and cats were okay. So I hid at the terminal, sending emails, drinking some water and breathing through my sweater.
Then I heard the next collapse. I knew what that sound was without even seeing it. I got up and wandered out enough to see the next huge cloud of smoke coming down at me. I went back inside, underneath some cover, and hid for another 10-15 minutes while that dust and smoke cleared. Then the police were literally forcing everyone onto the ferries… which I did not want to do. So I snuck out around the side, where I met a woman who wanted to get up to her husband at Hudson Street in the village. I told her I would show her the way and we walked along the eastern side, towards the seaport. It seemed like only 2 minutes before we were there and the seaport just appeared out of nowhere. She continued north and I went and sat down. From the seaport, I could see up Fulton Street back to my apartment area. The streets were covered in dust and whiteness and ambulances and firetrucks were roaring all over the place (there is a hospital 1 block north of my apartment.) I sat at the seaport and exchanged more emails with Dad and Jesse for a while.
Jesse told me his girlfriend, Juliet, was at his apartment, which is upstairs from mine, so I told him to tell her I was coming. I waiting till the dust was a little more settled and I walked back up to my apartment. I went to get her first. When I arrived, she had taken a shower and was crying. Our friend Brian was there. He was also covered in dust and crap and totally in shock, just like me. He had been 3 blocks or so east of the WTC when the second building collapsed.
We all went down to my apartment. We had water, power, cable and phones. I called my father, told him what happened, and then I got online. I talked to all my friends online from 12 through the afternoon, following the news on TV while my friends came in and out of my place. I have a balcony on my apartment overlooking Fulton Street so we could step out and look down the street to the WTC. Around 2, I finally took a shower and tried to eat something. Around 4, I looked outside and saw that the base entry to the WTC, where the Borders, Krispy Kreme, etc used to be, was raging in fire. I went outside at that point and took some pictures. Jesse and Juliet left that afternoon but my friend Brian and his girlfriend Annie, who also both live in the building, were hanging out with me at my place. We all decided we wanted to stay the night downtown. At 6pm, we lost power, which made everything sort of creepy, but we still wanted to stay. We got flashlights and candles and hunkered down in my apartment, even thought it was pretty warm.
Eventually, around 6:30 or so, we went outside to walk around and see what we could see. By now the police were not letting anyone past Gold Street, where I live, on Fulton. But we snuck around some more and got some more pictures and just looked around. Everything south and downtown was evacuated but the police said our building was not forcibly evacuated. While we were walking around, more fighter jets soared overhead. Despite being not-scared and then in shock most of the day, when those jets went overhead, I started shaking with fear. A couple minutes later when they lowered one of the big construction trucks off a platform to the ground, it made a relatively loud crashing should. This scared me instantly and I looked up without thinking, trying to see if another building was falling on me. At this point, I realized how freaked out I was and started to comprehend what all had happened.
We got back to my place around 8 and listened to the radio, with lots of candles and laid low. When Brian went to take a shower, he said the water was gone, all brown. At this point I decided I did not want to stay downtown anymore. We had no power. It was completely black outside except for the ambulance and police and construction trucks going to the WTC up Fulton Street outside my window. I decided the cats were okay and I needed to get away from there. So at 9:30pm we all finally left.
We had to leave with flashlights since there were no lights anyplace. We had to walk up the east side of the island, through Chinatown, over Canal Street and up 6th Avenue to 6th Avenue and 4th Street to get on a subway. On my way, I met a woman who worked at a hospital and had been on the phones all day with people calling to ask if they knew where their loved ones were. She said it was terrible.
I got on the A train and took it up to Columbus Circle which is by Central Park on the south west side. I walked over to my friend Deb’s place at 57th and 3rd Avenue and spent the night there. She only had a radio, which I knew, so I didn’t have to watch anymore.
We got up Wednesday at 6:30am (went to bed at like 1am) and I couldn’t sleep anymore. She called work (she works for Morgan Stanley) and they actually wanted her to come in! So we both showered and went to her work. She had stuff to do, so at 9 I went to my office. I dropped off my rolls of film to get developed and came in to check mail and make calls.
After a while at work, I went out to lunch with my friends Jacqui and Tammy. They took me to see the movie RockStar, hoping to get my mind off it. The previews for the new Schwarzenegger film had explosions in it and made me shake. Annoying. After the film, it was around 4pm and I decided I needed to go downtown to check on my cats. Jacqui agreed to go with me.
We took the A train to the West 4th Street station again and then walked down. There were checkpoints all over and they would not let anyone downtown who did not have a photo ID to prove you lived there. Even then, a lot of the officers said I lived too close to be allowed in. I persisted and we made our way to the east side of the island and then down. When we got to under the Brooklyn Bridge ramp, they stopped letting me down there at all, saying the Century 21 building just collapsed. This building is 4 blocks from my apartment. This scared me. Buildings on my side of the WTC were now collapsing and there is a huge hotel next door to Century 21 that could cause a lot more trouble for downtown. At this point, I decided I had to get in and get the cats out.
Jacqui and I snuck around to the east and made our way down there next to a flock of army guys on their way in. Ambulances and police cars raced all over, since more people were injured and killed in the new collapse. It seriously looks like a war zone downtown. We went back to my apartment and found people who are still staying and living downtown, in my building. No power, no water, no gas. Nothing. Across the street from my apartment are four large towers of condos that house a lot of elderly people. They have not been evacuated and are stuck there, no way out, no water, no power. Terrible.
With a flashlight, I went to my apartment and packed up a backpack and got the cats into their cat carriers. They did not like this idea. Neither did Jacqui or I since it was going to be a long walk up to the next train or transportation and my cats are way too fat and heavy. But we persisted.
We walked out and up 2 blocks and took a rest. I talked to a rescue worker and asked him how things looked. He said that 1 Liberty Plaza was about to collapse or had partially collapsed. He said that that was the building they were using as the temporary morgue. Any bodies they had were about to be covered again. He also said that most of what is there is not bodies. “It is all parts” is what he said. We wished him well and continued on.
The trek out of there was terrible. We had to walk from the seaport area all the way north on the east side of Manhattan and then went to Broadway and then up to Houston Street to catch a subway. Giuliani is doing a fantastic job with this disaster but it is terrible that there is no formal evacuation of that area for residents and thereby also no formal way for residents to transport themselves, their pets or anything out of the area. It was a very long and tiring walk for Jacqui and I. I think I pulled every muscle in my body, ripped holes in my arms and calloused my fingers. To make it worse, the cats cried the whole way and Kaizar even pee’d in his carrier. It was nasty.
Eventually we got onto trains. We took the E from Broadway/Lafayette to Penn Station where we got out and transferred to the 1 train to go uptown to my friend Tammy’s place at 81st and Broadway. We finally got to Tammy’s and I am staying there now until things clear up.
A friend of mine, Dave, who just moved into an apartment last Thursday at Park Row, which is basically at Broadway and Vesey, 1 1/2 blocks north east of the WTC, met up for dinner that night. His building could very well collapse at any second. Terrible. As New Yorkers, our reactions are all very different. Some of us want severe retaliation. Some of us, myself included, want to see the responsible parties hunted down and destroyed, but do not want anyone else to every see the things that I/we have seen.
While we were at dinner, the news reports came on that were was a bomb scare at the Empire State Building and Penn Station. I had just been there 1 hour before. All of us started shaking. None of us believe it is over. We all expect more to come. All our cellphones started ringing and in unison we were all saying “No.. I am nowhere near 34th Street.” This is what our phone calls are about now.
Today, Thursday, I came in to work at 11am. Not much work is getting done. While here they have evacuated Times Square, Penn Statin, Macy’s, the Empire State Building and Grand Central Station. I work at 40th and Broadway, which is right in the middle of all of this. I am hanging here though, despite almost everyone else leaving. Soon I will go back to the upper west side where I will lay low and watch the news again tonight. Hopefully I will be able to walk downtown tomorrow and see how things look. As more buildings collapse down there, it becomes worse and worse. It is a domino effect. My apartment is 5 blocks away from the WTC so I think, in the end, it will be okay. However I had no idea when I will be able to go home again. And when I do, I don’t know what will happen. The air quality is terrible down there. My balcony is covered in 3 inches of dust and crap. I hope my rent goes down. 🙂
Anyways. I am okay. I am shaken. If you want to reach me, email works pretty well. I can also be tracked down at firstname.lastname@example.org. My cell phone doesn’t let me call out still and I seem to only occasionally be able to get calls in (646-337-5806). I intend to stick with New York through this. Can’t imagine being anyplace else. It’s the center of the world for a reason and I can’t imagine being anyplace else but at the center of the world. If anything else blows up, explodes or falls down, though, I promise to leave the city… for a little while at least. Heh. Hopefully it won’t come to that.
Happy thoughts all around. When I can scan the pictures I took, I will put them online. You will see how insanely crazy I was.
The digital scans of the photos I took are online albeit in small format.
This is a followup email that I wrote and sent on Saturday, September 15th at noon.
So you are not going to believe this but I actually was able to get off the A train last night and wander around “ground zero” for approximately an hour and a half. I got more pictures… from 1/2 block to 1 block away on the east side. I will get them processed today and try to get them scanned soon also.
It is unbelievable down there. There is no way I should have been allowed off there… I think they revoked that decision shortly after I got off because they had to officially hail the uptown 4 train, which is also now running, to stop for me. I was escorted around by an officer.. I showed my pictures to the rescue workers there and they are shoked.. Technically the police are still under official orders to arrest any citizens found wandering around down there.
Anyways. It was insane. Rumor is that there are trains that got caught underneath when the towers collapsed.. Hopefully empty who knows.. They are only finding bodies and parts when they dig way down deep now.. Everything within easy accessibility has been removed.. and, yes, that means only an official count in the lowers 100s.. Insanity.
The Century 21 building still stands, as does 1 Liberty Plaza and the Millennium Hotel, although they expect to probably have to take the latter down. My friend Dave’s apartment at 15 Park Row not only still stands but has NO damage. Not a single broken window. My end of Fulton Street still has absolutely no power, but I have heard that they did officially evacuate the 4 towers of elderly people. However I also heard that the grocery store 1 block south of my place has been open and they are giving people flashlights to shop with!
Anyways. It is crazy down there. I know they have to open things for Monday but there were reports from some of the guys I talked to of large cracks in the subway stations… I was totally nervous being down there myself, but I felt like there was some reason for me to have been allowed.. So I listened to my instincts (which we all know now are officially insane) and I got off.
That’s it for now. Off to develop the photos. I also got pictures from the promenade in Brooklyn and of the vigils and Union Square and Washington Square Park, along with shots of Times Square in the afternoon.
Just wanted to update you.