A Journalist Remembers September 11: Then & Now

sept 11 memorial photo

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I wasn't at home watching in horror as the news unfolded on TV or leaving work and streaming through the streets with mobs of other bewildered New Yorkers. I was racing downtown in a taxi to cover the attacks.

The subways had already been shut down, so I had no choice but to hail a cab. When I told the driver where I wanted to go, he put his head down on the steering wheel for a full 30 seconds and seemed to be praying.

"Okay, Miss," he finally said quietly.

The air was filled with the piercing sound of sirens -- more sirens than I'd ever heard in my life. A thick plume of black smoke wafted over the East River. We were stuck in a massive traffic jam with countless ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars. It was sheer mayhem.

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Meanwhile, we listened to what was happening on the radio. And what was happening was awful. We heard when the second plane crashed into the second tower. We heard the screams of people on the street. And we heard the shattering of metal and glass as the first building collapsed, and the reporter's voice cracking as he made the announcement. I gasped, and burst into tears.

When it was clear we weren't going to reach the World Trade Center on the highway, we tried going through the city's Midtown section instead. There were crying, terrified, confused people everywhere. Roads were blocked and traffic was at a standstill.

Finally the driver turned to me sadly. "I can't get you there, Miss," he said. I nodded. I jumped out and went to the office instead, where I would spend the next 12 hours writing up what another reporter called in about the terrible scene in lower Manhattan.

A few days afterward, I ventured down to Ground Zero myself and a month later, I was sent to cover a memorial service there, with the charred, twisted twin tower rubble still visible and smoldering in the background. In the coming years, I would repeatedly revisit that tragic day in my work as a journalist, as each notable anniversary was marked. For the first, I went back and stood in what was then just a yawning pit of dust and dirt, remembering all that had happened in the past year.

Now, for the 10th anniversary, I found myself back down at Ground Zero yet again, this time to see the September 11 memorial -- two massive square reflecting pools where the fallen towers once stood, framed by cascading waterfalls and granite etched with the names of those lost. I was both surprised by how much was still under construction and impressed with the progress that had been made.

Wearing one of the hard hats and fluorescent yellow vests that had been given to journalists in the group, I traipsed through the gravel and thought about all that had changed in the last decade because of that one heart-wrenching morning. 

It was a day not unlike September 11, 2001. The sun was shining brilliantly in the deep blue, cloudless sky. I was struck by the serenity of the place that had once been such a scene of chaos and violence and that had since been the source of so much controversy and conflict. Only that morning, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist had to be hauled away after he shouted at World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein about covering up the true story of September 11. It was a reminder of what a firestorm had been set in motion that fateful day 10 years ago. And though the haunting memories have faded and the nightmares have receded, I realized once more that I, like so many others who lived through it, would never forget.

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

 

Image via Joe Woolhead

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