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Totally surreal
Amidst general pandemonium

By John Houshmand
September 13, 2001
The Iranian

Although I am not fond of personal form letters I thought under the circumstances it might be advisable to put in writing some of the events of September 11 and to let all know that those people who were extremely close to the epicenter of the events were near enough to feel the heat but far enough away to be safe.

I heard the first impact, thinking it was a large accident on the street, and upon looking out the window (living in the shadow of the World Trade Center) saw the hole in the north tower and the fire and smoke. It did not register. Upon hitting the street I was met by neighbors who were screaming that a plane had just flown into the building.

Thinking that it was an accident, we barely had time for it to register before we saw the south tower blow out towards us. The plane had been obscured from view and so we thought at first that it was an explosion, and obviously the mind could not get its hands around what could be happening, but the terrorism factor began to run through my brain. Then someone said it too was a plane.

I went to my office amidst general pandemonium, 10 blocks from the WTC. In a totally surreal situation, we kept our staff calm while we awaited some sign as to how to proceed. The streets outside were jammed with both people staring at the towers, and oddly enough people straggling up from further south, while the towers burned furiously. I knew that the buildings had massive wind bracing and could withstand a direct aircraft hit, but when I saw the uncontrolled burning I realized that the steel WOULD burn, its strength would be compromised and the load from the upper floors would cause ultimate failure.

With each building collapse the displaced air blew up Hudson Street like a desert wind while a confused stampede would take place. After the second collapse I got a chemical/dust mask and joined a group of mostly construction workers who were volunteering to help. We got to Broadway and John Street, roaming about a block from the tower, and there were hundreds if not thousands of firemen, police, ems, and other trained professionals mustered and waiting for direction. Accordingly, my group could not be directed to do anything except carry water to the area.

Within an hour of our entrance into the area we dispersed as most of the people had no dust protection and the air was noxious. Although I heard from people who saw bodies and parts, we saw nothing but debris and dust and burned vehicles. I imagine most of the dead and injured were at the building site specific and in the plaza adjacent.

Volunteers amassed throughout the day, but had no direction and even the trained crews couldn't get in as the zone was unsafe due to fires and minor explosions. When Building 7 collapsed after 5 p.m., another stampede came up Hudson Street. But soon over and with that the entire event somewhat exhausted itself as the day came to an end.

By nightfall Canal Street was lined with bulldozers, excavators, and dumpster trucks from as far away as two hours from NYC, mostly private hire-ins waiting for access to remove the debris. They were gone by dawn, assumedly to the site. We had sent people home after 5, as they elected to walk home, some as much as three hours. My accounting department walked home to New Jersey through the Holland Tunnel.

I would prefer not to relate the emotional aspects of the event, as you will hear it all from the media, and although some of it will be useful, most of it will be a hypnotized unconscious and irresponsible effort on the part of the media to try to "make" your emotions for you. I would urge you to avoid this as much as possible.

Your emotions are your own as are your thoughts and impressions, and they are sacred. Try to keep them that way and avoid the mob effect that you will be submitted to. Try to think and feel for yourself. I have my own impressions, however, through it all the most difficult thing was to keep a sense of awareness separate from the flood of emotions and confusion. To stay at the top of the string, not in the sway of the pendulum.

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