Friday, September 11, 2009
(from the below thread on The Belmont Club)
After the first attack in '93 people in the upper floors of the World Trade Towers were instructed not to evacuate down. That if needed they would be taken off the roofs. Some lives were lost because of that.
That was Primary Day. I was working at a polling site in Queens when the cop came in and announced they had hit the trade center and the election was canceled. Never before in American history, not even for the Civil War, did we stop an election. I got to the Red Cross HQ, I had been a volunteer already for a couple of years, around noon. John McGhee, a mountain of a man and the youth cohort leader who has since died, was organizing 10,000 volunteers in the auditorium of the old HQ which was behind Lincoln Center. I grabbed a van of supplies and raced down the West Side Highway past the thousands lining it. We pulled up in front of the hospital on Greenwich about two blocks North of The Box. All the doctors and nurses were standing outside and waiting. You could feel the heat from two blocks away and the air was thick with dust and the smell, well that is what I will never forget. That and the nurse standing there crying as the realization came that no one was coming out. I worked there, in front of the school next to it actually, for two weeks 12-16 hours a day straight.
For the second day I worked liaison at the reconstituted OEM in the Police Academy. I would call our HQ to confirm that we could provide blankets as needed and every now and then someone from the Medical Examiners office would come to the door and yell out "Do we have body bags?" As a side note, two weeks before there had been a multi agency meeting at the OEM HQ on the 23rd floor in 7 World Trade on hurricane preparedness. They had boasted at length about the state of the art facility. I was the stinker who raised a hand and asked if it was safe in the event of an attack. They replied with outraged assurance that the sides were especially armored and could withstand any attack or natural disaster. My response was to say, "Yes but what about the floor below?" They did not invite me back. A couple of days after 9-11 the National team from the Red Cross showed up to take charge and I escorted them around lower Manhattan and we did the damage assessment. We examined the place pretty thoroughly and concluded that it was damaged. The police were told to stop anybody from doing anything but I know how security works. The cop standing on the South East corner of Broadway and Wall wouldn't let us by but I saw the Lieutenant standing on the North West corner, so I asked to speak to him. Well the Lieutenant saw us go past the first cop so he wasn't going to stop us. I just said hello and we passed by. At one point in the midst of the devastation we found the Wall Street Hotel open and immaculate with the manager looking every inch a retired British Colonel as they cared for the rescue workers. Then I spent a month working at the main respite center on the Hudson River piers near the Intrepid. My most searing memory from there, beyond the wall of card and letters from across America and the missing persons photos, was the back room that was the Teddy Bear warehouse. It was like an animal shelter. We had thousands of bears that had been sent in and the one iron rule was that if you took a bear you were out. Later people who were milking the system came in, claimed to be victims to get benefits and took bears that they sold on the street. I wonder what happened to all those teddy bears needing homes. I sat with a pregnant widow, firefighters wives are all so young and lovely, as a firefighter explained to her that her children would always have 5,000 uncles.
Down on Greenwich street we had paper painter's masks that we tried to convince the rescue workers to wear. Their were something like 16 different law enforcement agencies present at one point, including the Nassau County animal rescue, who carried guns. The National Guard stopped everybody but families sent their daughters down with trays of food and with a smile they got in. Some lunatics had gotten a hold of Red Cross gear and set up there own respite sites that it took days to sort out were not authorized. I went to the bathroom just when Robert Deniro came by with hamburgers from his restaurant up the block. The people from National restricted disbursement of the access badges we needed because they wanted to get them as souvenirs. On the piers I learned that the security dogs had a higher level of clearance on their ID badges then their handlers did. I guess the theory was that the dogs wouldn't talk. Down at The Box many of the rescue dogs got cut digging. Tails were cut off, exhausted dogs and handlers would rest with us. Later they died from what they had inhaled.