Amidst general pandemonium
By John Houshmand
September 13, 2001
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.