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A Personal Account

Blubones posted this on our board. We thought we'd pass it along
What a day.

I was in the subway when the planes hit. I was riding the Number 1 train downtown, which is the train that stops directly beneath the World Trade Center. The conductor announced with unusual emotion that there had been an "explosion" at that station. I was headed for Brooklyn, so as soon as I got to the next station I switched to a train that would take me east of the trouble--or so I hoped. I was stuck in one train without moving for 30 minutes. This is an unusually long delay for the NYC subway system. Some of the passengers were angry, but most were quiet and grave. After all, an explosion on the West side messing with the trains on the East side? This had to be something big.

On my last train, I was riding with people who had actually witnessed the planes hitting the towers. A guy was ranting that it was two 747's, and I didn't believe him. I assumed they were just Cessenas. I also didn't believe they had fallen over. Who would? I just kept reading my paper with my impassive NY subway face. Another man said he had seen people jumping from the highest floors.

A woman said she had seen bodies in the streets. She seemed close to breaking down, but then the man across from her--who didn't seem to have seen anything--started ranting at her. It wasn't clear to me if he was anti-Semitic or anti-Arab. He seemed to think she was somehow responsible for it, though. She stared at him in disbelief and broke into laughter.

When I surfaced in Brooklyn, it looked like I was in a snow storm. The sky was black, visibility was less than 100 yards, and the air was full of white flecks. It was ash, I later found out, from the collapse of the first tower. This ash storm did not last long. Within 15 minutes, the air was clear and the sky was blue again. Then we heard the second tower had collapsed. Within 10 minutes, we were in another ash storm.

I wanted to call my wife and tell her I was okay and make sure we had a good plan for getting our four-year-old home from his school. Cell phones were useless. All working pay phones had long lines of people waiting to use them. I had to call her several times before my call went through.

I started walking home. I live on West 104th street in Manhattan. The distance from where I was in Brooklyn was about 13 miles. I was worried they'd close the bridges into Manhattan soon, though, and I didn't want to spend tonight away from my family.

The Brooklyn Bridge was closed, it turned out, to Manhattan-bound pedestrian traffic. (By this time there was no non-emergency vehicular traffic on the streets. I don't know where all the cars went, but they were GONE. Everyone who wasn't in a uniform was walking.)

The people streaming off the Brooklyn Bridge from lower Manhattan looked generally dazed. Most were gray with ash. One man had about a centimeter of ash piled on each shoulder of his suit. A woman seemed to have collapsed as soon as she set foot in Brooklyn. EMT's were giving her oxygen on the sidewalk. I had to step over her legs.

I kept walking to the Manhattan Bridge. It was still open. From the bridge, it looked as though all of lower Manhattan was in a black fog. I couldn't see Governor's Island at all through the smoke, and Governor's Island is really close to lower Manhattan.

The whole time I was on the bridge I was a little jumpy. I scanned the air for planes several times. I tried to keep track of which direction I should run if I saw a plane headed my way--forward or back.

Once I was on the terra firma of Manhattan, I wanted to call my wife again. The lines for pay phones were ten deep. I knew there were pay phones in the subway stations which were probably going unused, though, and I was right. The token clerk at the station I entered was occupying himself by buzzing people through the gates and directing them to the open pay phones.

New Yorkers can be tough folks, but today we were a gentle bunch. The police were gentle. They didn't have to be anything else. An officer asked what appeared to be a homeless man not to sit on the front steps of what I think was a courthouse. The officer said, "Sir, I mean no disrespect, but today is a day we can have no one on these steps."

The homeless man said as he stood up, "I understand, sir, and I just want to help." They patted each other on the arm.

This is not a normal interaction between the NYPD and the indigent.

I walked west on Canal Street. Below Canal street was blocked off--police in riot gear wouldn't let you go further south than that. There were few vehicles on the streets except for ambulances, fire trucks and police cars. I saw one city bus head south full of firefighters. A fire truck went by from Hauppauge, a town about 75 miles away on Long Island.

Many of the official cars were caked with thick gray ash. Besides NYPD and NYFD, I saw FBI, ATF, DEA and the Post Office Police.

I stopped at Greenwich Street. I used to work on that street, so I was familiar with the view one used to see on that street when facing south. You used to see the Twin Towers. Today I only saw a cloud.

I walked to the West Side Highway to see if I could get a better view. I passed a Con Edison staging area in a parking lot. Electric repairmen were waiting in their vehicles for the call to head South and restore power.

The view from the West Side Highway was frustrating also. And why wouldn't it be? There was nothing to see but a cloud. It took me awhile to realize that the reason I couldn't see anything was that there was nothing left to see.

I headed north. I could walk in the middle of the streets--there was simply no traffic at all, and the sidewalks were packed with people, like me, who had to walk home. Most of us wore the resigned, impassive faces of people with a mission, but twice I passed pairs of women sobbing in each other's arms.

When I got home, I took my son outside to see the F-14's. They are the only planes above Manhattan right now. Pairs of them swoop about. We went down to the Hudson River to get a better view. The only boats on the water were police boats. The George Washington Bridge looked completely deserted except for one car on the upper deck with a flashing light.

I just got a call a few minutes ago from a mom at my son's school. She was calling to say school was cancelled tomorrow. She also mentioned that several parents of kids at the school are missing.