My wife Pat works in downtown Manhattan, several blocks from the World Trade Center. She often went over there on her lunch hour. However, she is in London on business. I have spoken with her since.
I heard of the attack on the WTC while I was in our neighborhood working at the polls for the NYC election, which was cancelled. When I stepped outside, from the street I could see a long column of smoke which stretched for miles, to the west of us (south of the WTC). Later some fine ash fell in Brooklyn, and there was a slight odor of ash in the air. We could see the WTC from our living room window. We live about 4 miles southeast of the WTC. When I looked out from our living room I saw a column of smoke rising from the WTC site. The subways were not running for several hours, and there were people walking home from Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn.
I was lucky to get on-line. Some lines from my ISP ran through the WTC area, and were knocked out. Fortunately they were able to restore some lines. I don't know if this will change, and it might become more difficult to get a line as more people wake up and traffic resumes.
Now that the sun has risen, when I look out my living room window I see heavy smoke drifting southwest from the site of the WTC, but the twin towers are gone.
There is still smoke and dust coming from the site drifting off to the the southwest. For the first few days I could watch TV and see the smoke rising from lower Manhattan out our living room window. The plume might narrow and then widen as more buildings fell.
It is now 3 weeks since the WTC fell. Pat is going to work downtown, about 9 blocks from the WTC site. Her offices were closed as part of the zone below Canal St. She couldn't get back into the building until Thursday, Sept 20. There was dust and smoke in the air downtown, and the air conditioning and their phones and computers were out. While these conditions are slowly improving, life is hardly back to normal. She reports that there is an acrid smell downtown. Building security is now tighter than before the attack on the WTC. They now look through bags and packages before admitting people to the building. When she is walking around the area, she can look down some blocks and see piles of rubble where the WTC once stood.
We don't know anyone who was killed or injured in the collapse of the WTC yet. Our local fire company lost 12 of its 30 members in the initial response to the emergency. We know a couple, Eileen and George, who had to evacuate their apartment in Battery Park City. I spoke to George on the afternoon of the disaster. They had lost their electricity, and were using a battery-powered phone. There were clouds of dust and smoke, and their terrace was covered with debris, including much paper. The following week, I heard Eileen calling into WNYC, the local public radio station, saying that friends had put them up in an apartment in Greenwich Village, and that they planned to return. Their apartment was in the restricted zone around the WTC site, and they were allowed in for about 15 to 20 minutes each day.
At first most subway lines didn't run south of 14th Street in Manhattan. Subway service has been restored on most lines, but service is scrambled and some lines have been truncated, with delays for many straphangers. Some stations are bypassed in the restricted area downtown near the WTC and some subway tunnels have caved in due the collapse of the WTC. Pat used to take the A train to the WTC-Chambers St. station. That station is now closed and she has to get off one station earlier.
I had met Emira, a Palestinian American, when we had both been members of a social club in the 1970s. Her parents lived in Jerusalem and she and her brother lived in New York. She had gone to college in Oklahoma and had a master's degree in Arab sociology from the American University of Beirut. I remember in 1972 when Arab terrorists killed the Israeli athletes at the Munich olympics, she was depressed. She said that although she intellectually understood the arguments for Arab nationalism, she had had enough of killing. There had always been killing in her lifetime and she couldn't stand any more killing. I had lost touch with her over the years, but I was aware from the newspapers that she had founded and was the leader of an Arab American community organization. I tried to get in touch with her to express sympathy as soon as I heard that there had been attacks on Arabs and Muslims in America. Then I heard her interviewed on WNYC. Many members of the Arab American community, especially women with head scarves, were afraid to go out in public and to shop. There were flags flying from many shops and apartments on Atlantic Avenue, near downtown Brooklyn, where the largest Arab community in New York is located. She thought it was pitiful that they had to proclaim their loyalty when they were Americans, had family and friends at the WTC, and were an established community in New York. When the interviewer asked her about her attitude toward Israel, which she regarded as the oppressor of the Palestinian people, as she totally rejected and condemned the violence of the attack on the WTC, she said that violence was not her way and didn't solve any problems.
Our political club met on Thursday, Sept 20, to consider how to tactfully remind our favorable voters that the primary election had been postponed to Tuesday, Sept 25, without actually crudely mentioning the name of our candidate. The Arab American community organization had sent a plea for help in an e-mail to our president and others. I introduced a resolution which passed unanimously to the effect that we condemned the bigoted and racist attacks on members of the Arab and Muslim communities, and that we expressed our solidarity with our friends at the community organization.
On Sunday, Sept 23, I went to the memorial service at Yankee Stadium at the insistence of an old friend, Nora, a former New Yorker visiting from Texas. Aside from the specifically religious and patriotic themes, it was important as a memorial for those who had lost loved ones in the disaster, especially as many did not know for certain what had happened to them, as a tribute to the fire, police, and rescue workers who had risked and often lost their lives, and as an expression of unity among the various religious and ethnic groups in the city. As you know, there have been attacks by bigots and ignorant people against Arabs, Muslims, or anyone who presents a suspicious appearance. We happened to be sitting next to a group of Sikhs. They were especially affected when speakers condemned violence and bigotry against people of "Middle Eastern" appearance, and applauded a Muslim speaker who declared that that the Muslim community here were loyal Americans and rejected terrorism. When it was the turn of the Sikh speaker on the dais, the Sikhs in front of us cheered and joined in chanting their responses to the prayer from the podium. I was amazed to see that I knew the Sikh leader personally from my political club. Inderjit was never a self-important person, just another member with whom one might discuss issues. Nora was rather startled when I shouted "I know him!". Not to belabor the point, but this indicates to me the way we are all tied together in New York.
We were also sitting next to a group of people who were holding pictures of their missing friends or relatives. We tried to express our sympathy to one of them who had been sitting near us as the crowd broke up at the end of the service. Nora noted that they had been sitting with us in the second level of the stands on the left side of the stadium. She wondered why they had been so far out of the way, and why they hadn't been seated front and center. She also felt that more of the service should have been dedicated to them and their loss.
[For Nora's view, please read from Nora's letter to a friend.]
The subway now stops at Pat's station, the WTC-Chambers St. station. The platform for her train, the A train, is several blocks north of the WTC, where the other platforms, under the WTC, are still shut down. She experiences an eerie feeling getting off there, and there is still a strong acrid smell. There are still fires and smoke from the WTC site and the air quality downtown varies from day to day. Pat's subway train emerges from the tunnel in Brooklyn and travels as an elevated line for several stations. Usually there is a clear view of downtown Manhattan. Some mornings, however, the view is hazy and she can't see some of the buildings downtown. The air conditioning in her building is often off. The building administration has informed them that they are changing the filters. This comes just as Pat is working 7 days a week and into the evenings preparing to argue a case in court. The air in the office is not the best and she sometimes coughs at home.
Pat has spoken with Eileen, who reported that she and George had moved back to their apartment building in Battery Park City, next door to their own apartment, into the apartment of friends who were away. Their own apartment was too full of dust and debris. After the first plane struck the North Tower, Eileen went downstairs with other neighbors while George remained behind to look after things. When the second plane hit the South Tower, only a few blocks away, George was out on their terrace. He immediately raced through their apartment and downstairs, leaving all doors open behind him, so that when they returned their apartment was filled with dust and debris.
Yesterday, Pat and her colleagues were scheduled to appear for arguments at the U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan. The East African Embassy bombers were to be sentenced the same day in the same building. Luckily, Embassy bombers were sentenced in the morning, and Pat and colleagues appeared in the afternoon. Security was tight and everything passed off without a hitch. Although the reporter on WNYC said that the air in the court still had an acrid odor, Pat said that the air was better.
Our state Assemblymember addressed our political club last night. It seems that the Federal funds voted for New York City will be used up just cleaning up the WTC disaster site. New York City and New York State face major costs for reconstruction and social services, at a time when their revenue streams have diminished, partly due to the disaster. However, Republicans in Congress are resisting further emergency appropriations for New York.
Pat has a headache today at work due to the bad air in her building. The wind has been blowing from the WTC site.
Updated October 24, 2001