*Posted to odwyerpr.com Sep. 12, 2001
Tuesday, September 11 seemed like a perfect day to me. Clear blue sky. Though I live in Northern Virginia, I'm staying at my parent's apartment in mid-town Manhattan for a few days while they are away.
I didn't turn on the morning news like I usually do when I get up. I just rushed out the door at about 9:00 a.m. trying to get to work as quickly as I could.
View down an empty Fifth Ave. at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001. The World Trade Center Towers are usually clearly visible in the distance, towering over the rest of the buildings.
As soon as I hit the street at 1st Ave and 36th St., near the Mid-town Tunnel, I saw smoke billowing into the air downtown.
Like anyone rushing to get to work I took notice but kept on going. I heard the screaming sirens of ambulances, but that's not uncommon in New York City.
The more I walked, however, the more smoke I could see. After a block a limo driver listening to his car radio told me a second plane had hit one of the World Trade Center Towers. I asked when the first plane had hit. That's when I got the lowdown.
As I made my way toward Madison Ave. where the O'Dwyer office is, I stopped by a bank that had a T.V. on in the window. About twenty people were glued to the scene they were watching.
When I got to the office around 9:30, everyone was listening to radio reports. We all sat around in a daze.
A friend of mine called me from Washington, D.C. and asked how I was doing. I told her how unbelievable it was here in the city. She joked how the next target will probably be the Pentagon. Incredibly, not too long after I heard that the Pentagon had been hit.
O'Dwyer employee Jerry Walker was on a bus coming into Manhattan from New Jersey when he and other passengers noticed the smoke coming from the World Trade Center area.
Some speculated that it was an electrical fire because of the dark color of the smoke. One man said he felt the towers were unsafe since the bombing in 1993.
As if watching a scene from a movie, Jerry and the others witnessed the second plane streak across the Manhattan skyline and rip into the south tower.
"It happened very quickly. I saw the sun reflect off the plane and noticed it was banking sharply," described Walker.
O'Dwyer editor Kevin McCauley was at Ground Zero at the point of contact. He drove wiith a friend to Manhattan from their Brooklyn homes and emerged from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel moments after the first plane attacked the WTC.
"Susan and I saw what looked like silver confetti and bits of paper falling from the sky," said McCauley. "Other than that, everything appeared normal. A cop was still directing traffic coming out of the tunnel. We figured though something was up [a tall building blocked off the view of the WTC from cars exiting the BBT] and tuned into all-news station WINS.
"We heard a report from the traffic reporter who was in a helicopter near the George Washington Bridge. He was talking about the typical delays and then apparently turned around and said, 'The WTC is on fire.'
"We drove north on the FDR and then got a bird's-eye view of the WTC, which was in flames. Along with many other commuters, we stopped to take in the scene.
"Emergency vehicles screamed southward on the FDR. We jumped into the car, continued our trip and then heard on the radio that the second tower was hit.
"We were numb. Like others, we had assumed the first "accident" was a result of pilot error. It was now crystal clear that NYC and the US were under attack.
"We made it up to the 42nd exit on the FDR. Susan and I split up. I made it to the O'Dwyer office on Madison Ave. and then walked up to 5th Ave, which provided a view of the burning WTC.
"After taking stock of fellow staffers, I walked home to Brooklyn with another O'Dwyer staffer. We made it to Chinatown and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge with thousands of fellow New Yorkers. On the bridge, we could see the smoldering WTC and smell death. More emergency vehicles from Brooklyn, Queens and scores of towns from Long Island raced to the scene. Safely in Brooklyn, we hitchhiked and got a lift for the last two miles of our 15-mile trek," said McCauley.
Each report brought more devastating news. First the south tower collapsed. Then we heard the north tower collapsed.
Some of us ventured out to Fifth Ave. to get a look downtown. All we could see was smoke. The Twin Towers that used to dominate the skyline of lower Manhattan were no longer there. People were standing dumbstruck in the streets looking downtown at the war-like disaster.
We tried to do some work. But it was impossible. A friend of a co-worker showed up at our office. She told how she and her boss and other workers had retreated to a bar to watch the nightmare on T.V. She soon after, saying it was too depressing to sit there watching the news reports.
An O'Dwyer employee got a phone call from a friend, Dave Belt, who jumped into his car right after hearing the blast of the south tower collapsing. Belt's construction management company is two blocks from the World Trade Center. He wanted to make it home to his wife and infant in Park Slope, N.Y., before the bridges were shut down.
"It was like going through a war zone," Belt said. He witnessed pedestrians begging vehicles to please let them in. He saw an elderly man bent over, holding his chest, begging a taxi driver to let him in, saying "I'm sick, I need help." Belt ran out of his car and got the man safely into the front seat, while four other people suddenly crammed into the back seat.
At the bridge the police already had road blocks set up. Belt said, "You've got to let me go through, I've got a medical emergency here." They gave him the okay and called ahead to have EMS meet them at the bridge exit.
Belt's car was the last civilian vehicle to cross The Brooklyn Bridge.
By about 11:30 everyone in the office was starting to contemplate how they'd get out of Manhattan. We heard that all the bridges and tunnels had been closed and trains and buses weren't running.
Two O'Dwyer employees packed up and said they would walk home to Brooklyn. It took them over three hours. Other employees walked 100+ blocks to their apartments.
I finally left the office at about 3:00 p.m. I still couldn't believe what was happening as I ventured out onto the street. I was struck by how beautiful a day it was in the city. Only downtown a nightmare of all nightmares was going on.
An army of people were marching uptown. They looked like refugees fleeing from a war zone except they weren't carrying clothes, pots, pans and bundles, instead they were loaded down with laptop computers, briefcases and cell phones.
I walked in a daze back to my parent's apartment and fell asleep watching the endless replays of the plane hitting the south tower and the buildings collapsing.
When I woke around 7:00 p.m I headed out to Third Ave. to get something to eat.
People were milling around, talking on their cell phones. It was very hard to get a long distance line out of Manhattan. Cops were blocking off main arteries so emergency vehicles could get through.
The sun was setting on Manhattan and the smoke hung over downtown like a dark cloud. I waited with about 20 others for a slice of pizza. People were hungry and congregated at the few places still serving food.
I wound up at a bar I had been at the night before. What a difference a day can make. One night I'm watching Monday Night Football, the next night I'm watching the World Trade Centers collapse.
It felt like a Sunday morning walking to work on Wednesday. The streets were basically empty. I barely had to look for oncoming cars as I crossed the major avenues on my way to the office.
And now as I sit here with another colleague telling this story we both feel that America has been changed forever.