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While the effects of 9/11 on these everyday heroes and heroines are indelible, and in some cases have been devastating, at the heart of their deeply personal stories-their harrowing escapes from the falling Towers, the egregious environment they worked in for months, the alarming health ...
While the effects of 9/11 on these everyday heroes and heroines are indelible, and in some cases have been devastating, at the heart of their deeply personal stories-their harrowing escapes from the falling Towers, the egregious environment they worked in for months, the alarming health effects they continue to deal with-is their witness to their personal strength and renewal in the ten years since.
These stories, shared by ordinary people who responded to disaster and devastation in extraordinary ways, remind us of America's strength and inspire us to recognize and ultimately believe in our shared values of courage, duty, patriotism, self-sacrifice, and devotion, which guide us in dark times.
Carol worked for the Transit Division of the New York City Police Department. Assigned to a unit covering the World Trade Center, she was one of the first officers on the scene. Standing in the lobby doorway trying to get people out, she was blown violently away from the building as the Tower collapsed. Blinded, choking, and seriously injured, Carol continued pulling people from the rubble and looking for survivors. Most people she found were dead. Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa wrote that, "To express something is to take away its terror." But Pessoa didn't witness Nagasaki, the Holocaust, or September 11th. Otherwise, he may well have agreed with Theodor Adorno that, "To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric." Mass atrocity overwhelms language's capacity to express the atrocity's magnitude and fierce evil. Carol and other responders often struggle to find words darkly and deeply rich enough to suggest the horrific. The same adjectives and comparisons recur—"amazing," "unbelievable," "surreal," "shocking," "like in a movie"—but the words seem anemic. One of the most piercing frustrations of people touched by violent mass atrocity is not being able to adequately relate it to others; they often feel trapped inside their heads with unbearable memories.
WHEN WE CAME OUT OF THE SUBWAY SYSTEM, people were frantic. They were running and they were screaming and there was a lot of debris. As I ran toward the World Trade Center, people were pointing, screaming, and shouting, "That way, that way!" As I came upon the buildings, I saw Tower 1; I saw the rear end of a plane sticking out, halfway in, halfway out, but I could only see the rear of that plane in the building, and a lot of blood and debris. People were frantic, people were panicking, not knowing what to do.
I called for assistance on the radio and confirmed that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, calling for other officers to respond, for assistance, for supervisors, and immediately went to Tower 2, which we were closer to. People were still coming out of that building. We tried to just get people to calm down and to evacuate, and we headed people uptown. That area needed to be supervised in some way, shape, or form—with the panic and the debris. So we just took it upon ourselves to just go into action.
Because the plane was so forward into the building, it did not look like it was a big jet plane. When I looked up, I saw the rear of the plane. A lot of people never even [saw] it sticking out because once the jet fuel dripped into the building, there was an explosion and you no longer saw the plane. But when I initially got there, I saw the back of the plane sticking out of the building.
More police officers came, ambulances came, fire departments came. My immediate supervisor, I never saw. We just continued to evacuate and tell people to go uptown and get out of the area. But everybody wants to know what's going on. It's human nature. They want to stand there and look up and see. It was very difficult to get people to move on. We didn't realize how bad that this was going to be at this point in time.
There were about ten police officers working the area with me. Big, big burly guy, FBI shield around his neck, came up to us and said, "You're not a coward. If you want to leave, there are more planes coming. We're under attack. You're going to die if you stay here." And this came from an FBI agent.
And I remember looking up at him and saying, "You're kidding me, right?" he said, "We're under attack. It's terrorism." He knew more than I knew.... The cops that I was working there with, we were like, "We're just going to continue. We're making a choice: We're not leaving; that's our job." It was more important to get all these people to safety. So we stayed and continued.
So now you've got two planes hit the Tower, you're just in this smoke-filled, debris-filled area where there's jumpers. I saw my first jumper. I had no idea what it was. When somebody just jumps and they're on the ground twenty feet from you, it's just an awful sight. It's like a tomato. You can't—it's unrecognizable. What do you do? You hear these noises and these crashes and you don't know what they are, but they were people jumping. I saw people actually hanging off the side of the building, as people saw later on, in the films, coming out of the buildings because of all the smoke. That was hard, to see those people up there and not be able to do anything for them.
I mean, body parts, dust, debris—people that were coming out that were injured, burn victims. I mean, a guy came out, his shoulder was like totally dislocated and—backwards. The side of his face was burnt off and his ear was missing.... You can't train to see that. I'm sure even a doctor would take a second look at something like that.
So we just continued to evacuate people. There was a woman down in the basement level that had cerebral palsy and couldn't walk. She was trying to get out of the building. I picked her up and carried her out of the building. I knew that we had to get her away from the area because there were more planes coming, because that's what the FBI had said.
I think that my personal adrenaline ... I was in shock mode. My strength to help just blocked everything out. Did I throw a woman over my shoulder and carry her out of a building? Yes, I did. I was strong. Because you just do things with the adrenaline.
I walked that woman up the escalator—the escalators weren't working—and walked her half a block. And I saw a real tall man in army fatigues—he was a National Guardsman—and I passed her off to him and asked him to continue, to take her to Downtown Beekman Hospital, to triage her.
I had a real problem ... with where these people were triaged. They were triaged at the base of the buildings and inside of the buildings. Which now ... we don't do. The ambulance would pull up and we'd load six or eight people in, and off they'd go. But a lot of people were triaged underneath the tree areas and the seating areas. And all those people are dead. They didn't live. There's no way that they lived through that, because that building just came down and crushed and pulverized. So where did all those people go?
I WAS INSIDE
Tower 2 collapsed first. I was actually inside the building, near the escalators, when the tower collapsed. When the building imploded down, it blew me out of the building. And I was able to hold onto the doorway with my left arm. People blew by me and under me and through me. Only with one arm, did I hold on. If you ever saw a cartoon with somebody midair, holding on for their life, I was actually holding on for my life. Not knowing what was happening, just knowing that there were explosions and that there were people coming past me and that there was utter terror. I was able to bring my other hand over because I was in shape. I worked out. I lifted weights four times a week. And that's the only thing that really saved my life, was me being strong.
I was able to pull myself down. And I heard somebody to the right of me, yelling at me, "Grab my hand! Grab my hand!" And I tried to feel for somebody, because I couldn't see anything. You couldn't breathe. I pulled and this person pulled back to me. I pulled myself over to them. We did the Chinese fire drill thing and held onto each other like we were taught when we were kids. Brick and debris and people and everything was coming down and it was very loud. We didn't know what was happening because you couldn't see; it was totally dark. And then there was total silence. I was lying under all of this debris with a guy.
I had no idea he was a police officer, or who he was. His name is Richie. He worked for Manhattan Traffic at the time. I found all this out afterwards. he and I crawled out of the building together. We were trapped. The only part of the building standing was a very small piece of cement, where Richie and I were. Everything else was down. Now, we had to crawl out. As we crawled out we saw people and we tried to help them and they were dead. It was very quiet. It was eerie. It was utter silence. I had no idea that the tower collapsed.
I came out to Vesey Street, where the church is, where the Millenium hotel was. This is a picture of myself and Richie, after we crawled out of the building [see page 3, top]. The woman on Richie's arm was standing with her hands up in the air. Her statement was, "Where's my pocketbook? I lost my pocketbook." She was in shock. She wasn't physically injured. Don't know where she was or where she came from. We just grabbed her and said, "You need to come with us. We need to get out of here." And she did.
We didn't know where we were walking, but I personally didn't look back to see the tower was down. I didn't know the tower was down. As we were walking through this big cloud of smoke, you couldn't see, you couldn't breathe. We were choking. I thought a nuclear bomb hit. Or I felt like napalm was dropped, like the Vietnam War. I really thought that we were just going to drop and die at any moment.
I kept hearing, "Holy Mary, Mother of God." And somebody just kept praying. It was a man's voice. They just kept saying it and it got louder and louder. Later on, I asked Richie, "Did you ever see anybody?" And he said, "No." "Did you hear that man?" And he said, "Yes." It was like a voice we were walking to. It was really eerie because my dad had passed away. I think it was my dad. So that was very difficult.
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?
Richie and I were vomiting. We were vomiting thick, black chunks of I didn't know what. I think it was a good thing, because we were trying to get that stuff out of our systems. We were both vomiting, and we couldn't breathe, and our corneas were scratched.
This woman, she left us. We helped other people. And then we started hearing the beeps.... We didn't know what they were. We thought they were car horns. "What are all those beeps?" We didn't understand. The cars were crushed, there were small fires, there was debris everywhere. And the beeps were the firemen's packs.
We walked down past this deli, and we went in and grabbed a bunch of water bottles, rinsed our faces off, tried to clear our eyes out. Just grabbed water bottles. People sitting on the side of the road, we were helping them, pouring water on them, telling them to get up and walk, just go uptown.
Richie and I walked down this one area and he saw a cop that he knew. This cop said, "Come into this building. Clean up. Come into this building. You're safe in here." I don't know where the building was. I don't know how far from the site it was, but we went into the building.
Now, mind you, I lost my partner and didn't know where my partner was. Beforehand, I had said, "If something happens, I'm going to meet you right here. You stay there, you wait for me." That never happened. There was no meeting. He [richie] lost two of his partners.
Unless you were there, you don't understand how chaotic it was. People were running and pushing, and this big explosion and the building actually came down ... How are you going to find where your partner is or where you were going or what's going to happen?
So Richie and I ended up going into this building. As soon as we got into the building, he falls down and collapses, clutches his chest, and I think he's having a massive heart attack. Two other guys come, grab him, take off his vest, his shirt, start giving him oxygen, giving him first aid. I'm yelling at him. "You can't die on me! I don't even know your name!" It was horrible.
You couldn't see outside; it was all black and dusty. Every once in a while you'd see somebody walk by. Our radios didn't work; the phones didn't work. I didn't have a cell phone. Nobody had a cell phone. I couldn't call my command; I couldn't look for my partner. We didn't know where we were safe, where we weren't. We didn't know what to do. There was no supervisor. There were other people here in the building asking us questions ... We didn't know how to answer them. I still didn't know the building had collapsed.
A half hour later, you hear another big rumble. The other tower collapsed—everything was shaking. We saw this big cloud of black smoke again, come through past the building. And fires in the back.
The cloud of debris was from the collapse of the second Tower. After it passed the building, Carol decided it was time to leave. She still did not realize that the Towers had fallen.
THEY'RE ALL DEAD
After walking to the West Side Highway, Carol and Richie hitch a ride on a truck that normally carries barricades. The truck drove up the highway and dropped them near Canal Street, where Richie met up with his command.
I told Richie's boss who I was, where I was from, and they notified my command. I told him I didn't know where my partner was, and they said that she was fine. Richie's two partners were fine....
Hours later, an ambulance came. There were all firemen and cops, and I was the only woman. They took us up to St. Clare's Hospital. On the way, we're sharing an oxygen tank. What good is this really going to do us? There's nothing left in it. But we're passing it around like we were passing a bottle.
When they arrive at the hospital, they notice the triage area with nurses and doctors waiting for the arrival of victims. Carol realizes that nobody's coming.
They bring us in and start treating us. They did our eyes, and they interviewed us. Detectives came to talk to us. It was really funny because the one fireman, he was hurt pretty bad and he was burnt and he was injured. I was in a lot of pain with my shoulder and my back and my legs and stuff.
They said to all of us, "We're going to send you home." We said, "Treat us. We're here. Just take care of us. Please treat us." They said, "We have people that are more seriously injured than you are, coming." We're like, "They're all dead. Nobody survived that. They're dead. Treat the living. Help us."
They didn't believe us. They handed us all Valiums and water and stood there while we drank our water and took Valiums. They thought that we were all crazy and that we were acting out. One fireman was a little vocal. He said, "You've got to be f'ing kidding me. I'm hurt. You're going to send me home?" He needed attention.
WHAT I DID WASN'T ENOUGH
Eventually they took us over to Manhattan Traffic, where Richie's base was, over on 30th street. I called my command and went off-duty from there. They had the TV on. Richie and I sat there and we held hands and we watched TV. We saw the towers collapse.
Well, I still didn't want to accept it ... I watched the TV and saw that all those people were killed and still didn't want to believe it. That was a big issue for me. I didn't accept the fact that the towers fell. And I didn't understand that the towers fell and that I was in one when it collapsed.
January of 2003 is when I actually realized what happened to me. They did an awards ceremony for the police Department and I got the Medal of Valor for ... for what? Saving all those people and all those people that died? Whatever. I took the piece of paper and I threw it at my commanding officer and I said, "You've got to be kidding me. I'm not accepting this." he said, "You have to." I said, "no, I don't have to."
I felt like what I did wasn't enough and that it was a defeat and that so many people died. I didn't feel worthy of receiving a medal when all those people died. He told me that I would be suspended if I didn't go. So I had to go. He said, "Dress blues, be there." Whatever. I went to the ceremony at the Winter garden. They had FBI snipers all around the area.
And then I remembered. I remembered what happened to me. It kicked in and I said, "Oh, my god."
I worked for four doctors in the medical division. They're like, "Carol, the building fell on you. You were inside when the building fell on you. You crawled out of the building." I'm like, "No, no, no. That didn't happen. No, no, no."
Excerpted from WE'RE NOT LEAVING by Benjamin J. Luft Copyright © 2011 by Benjamin J. Luft, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of GREENPOINT PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted September 12, 2011
It is easy to forget the enormity of what happened on 9/11. I remember being at work and slowly congregating in the conference room with my coworkers watching the events unfold on the big screen. It seemed unreal at the time, especially when the second plane hit. For me 9/11 was something that happened on television; consequently it never felt quite real to me. It is easy to forget what really transpired that day. And if that happens to me, someone who was 32 at the time, it is a tragedy. Multiply me by thousands and we have another national tragedy developing.
At the end of the day I think books like this one should be required reading for all Americans, so we never forget what happened. To all those innocent people who died that day just going about their life, to the first responders who died trying to save people, and to the numerous first responders who continue to this day to suffer and die directly as a result of 9/11.
This book delves into this last group, probably the most forgotten group of all those affected by 9/11. It tells the stories of those whose jobs took them to ground zero on September 11th, and kept them their over the ensuing weeks, months and years. The enormity of their efforts and sacrifices has been ignored, and if we let it, will be lost.
Imagine the long term effects, both physically and mentally, of spending months searching a burning pile of metal and mortar for the pulverized bodies of almost 3000 individuals while breathing in 3 inches of dust the whole time. To a person, everyone of the 33 responders (or spouse) say they all would do it again, but through their stories they explain what a truly devastating nightmare 9/11 was. It is their own experiences and it makes 9/11 real, not just some television show you saw 10 years ago.
This is not an easy book to read, but I feel we all should. In the end it showed to me that even through the worst tragedy imaginable, America came together. We sacrificed for each other, some more than others, and we got the job done. If we forget and drift apart, lose our national identity, then the evil of 9/11 has succeeded. This is an important book.
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Posted August 18, 2011
I would highly recommend this book as a down-to-earth portrayal of the events on the morning of 9/11 from the viewpoint of WTC responders in the New York area. Great for students and adults alike!
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Posted October 15, 2011
A non-political book about how what caring people are made of and that they come from all parts of society. It highlights that we have the ability to work towards the same goal. This book should be manditory reading for anyone who is in an elected position that makes financial decisions for government at any level. Don't blame these people for your overspending as it is not their fault!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 11, 2011
We all know of the police and firemen who rushed in to help on 9/11, but we may not have realized all the others who risked their lives to help. Doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, podiatrists, counselors, physical and massage therapists, iron workers and many, many others from all 50 states, many of whom are dying from illness related to their volunteer actions. It also highlights our countries' lack of preparedness for such a disaster. Great insight on what went on behind the scenes and the need for helping the helpers.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.