RIDGEFIELD, NEW JERSEY, USA, It’s September 11, 2001 at 8:30 in the morning, I am watching MTV but after a couple of minutes or more there’s a breaking news, I thought it’s a new movie and the title is “Breaking News”, who would think it’s really happening?. There’s smoke and the towering World Trade Center is collapsing like the sand without any solid columns and deform bars. I cannot believe it because my husband Andrew is just working three blocks away.
All landline phones, beeper and cell phones are dead to give way to emergency calls. All tunnels and bridges are closed such as the George Washington Bridge, Holland Tunnel and Brooklyn Bridge to prevent further damage for a possible attack. My parents called me from the Philippines to check if we are all alright, my husband then was working at Wall Street in New York City as a consultant and for us we chose to live in a place where everyone is equal, where we thought there’s a greener pasture, where we thought it’s peaceful than any other countries and where Americans thought they were untouchables from terrorist attacks.
The whole Manhattan on TV was covered by dark smoke. I got a call from my husband at around 5 in the afternoon, at last! He asked me to pick them up together with his Filipino officemates living also in New Jersey which is the neighboring state of New York City and just divided by the Hudson River. There was no safer transportation available but the ferries.
I brought my only child then. I put her on to the baby car seat then I started to drive going to Edgewater City, New Jersey where the ferries port is located. The only way I know to go there is going to Fort Lee City but there’s a lot of reroutes. Some people told me it’s because some alleged terrorist live in Fort Lee so Investigation is taking place.
The road is like forever. I don’t know any way leading to the port. There’s a red car in front of me and instinctively I just followed it. There are lots of police officers while I am in the driver’s seat and my one year old baby at the back was crying, I don’t know what to do but to focus on that red car I am following. With the help of so many forces I believe, the red car and I are both heading to the port. My husband Andrew and his officemates holding free bottled water from the free ferry ride can’t stop talking about what just happened.
For months, there was no work. The United States of America is in mourning. More than 3000 people are dead and the devastation and the way of life left behind will never be the same again. Everywhere even in the public laundry, people became aware. The patriotism is high with American flags showing in front of their houses. Pictures of Osama Bin Laden, the Al- Queda leader as the most wanted terrorist are pasted to some cars. I heard of harassment from the news to some Muslims communities in the states. Truly the untouchable is not untouchable anymore.
For months New York City is in pain. Employees don’t have work. Mayor Rudy Guilliani is doing his best to calm the city that once never sleeps. Hailed heroes , the firefighters were amazingly brave and sacrificed their lives to go up while telling everyone to go out from the building . Then we waved at the ambulance drivers and all who helped for the rescue and operations.
For months we were waiting for the go signal to start work again. A lot of lives had been lost, a lot of businesses had been closed surrounding the area and a lot of hope perished. Truly democracy has it toll.
With years understanding the Americans and the infrastructure, the terrorist did it easily, with their understanding that they did it for the higher ups. Nobody can do it without believing that what he will do is right and believing that they are the only ones who can decide what is right. I can’t believe that killing innocent people is right through their eyes. Till now the experience and the tragedy is something I will never forget.
Attached is the article published in Manila Bulletin by my husband’s friend and officemate in New York City.
Manila Bulletin, Sept 18, 2001
11-hour nightmare in New York
By ALEXANDER ALAIN R. PRINCIPE (Editor’s Note: The writer is a graduate of dela Salle College in Manila who works as a computer consultant at JP Morgan Chase in New York City. He was only three blocks away when the treacherous assault on the United States happened.)
LOWER MANHATTAN, NEW YORK – It was early Tuesday morning (September 11 US time) and I was already at the office a little after eight o’clock. It was sunny outside and was relatively a very nice day. I was at my desk and as usual was going through my routine of taking my breakfast of coffee and donut and reading through my emails.
One e-mail came from my manager asking me to expedite the report he was asking for since it had to be out early that day. Without much a do, I started working on the report needed by my boss. A little after 9:00 a.m., some of my colleagues were looking outside the window (we were on 16th floor of a 24-floor building of the JP Morgan, which is almost the last building on Wall Street). They noticed that burning papers were flying all around and there was a lot of smoke outside.
I heard someone say that a building must be on fire because a huge smoke can be seen from our vantage point but we really cannot tell which one it was. I went around our floor to get a better position to view the fire but all I saw was smoke.
While some of my colleagues decided to get out from our building to get a better view and probably first hand info on what is happening, I decided to return to my desk to finish my report.
It was also during this time I learned that an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center, which is approximately 3 blocks or 10 minutes walk from our building.
Immediately I logged into CNN.com to confirm the news and there it was, a picture of one of the towers of the World Trade Center with a huge hole in it. It was unbelievable I said to myself.
It was a major tragedy and an accident almost everybody thought (a bomber aircraft slammed through the empire state building decades ago so most of us assumed that it was an accident).
I called my wife to tell her about the accident and watch the TV for news. I assured her that I was fine. I never really place much thought about the incident after that and went back to finish my work.
A few minutes later, I heard a loud explosion and the building reverberated with an aftershock (much like a mild earthquake). Quickly, we learned that another airplane slammed into the other tower. Now this was more than a coincidence and definitely not an accident anymore. This is a terrorist attack!
Things changed from that time on. We were fixated to the news reports and at the same time awaiting information from the top management if we could go home already.
People were apprehensive and uneasy. Our floor was still heavily populated by a number of employees waiting for directives and yet no word from top management.
I stopped my work altogether. My report can wait for another day. Now there was an urgency to get out and go home. Thereafter, World Trade Center towers collapsed.. The whole area around Wall Street was covered with dust.
For a few minutes it looked like day turned into night because of the dust/ashes and smoke. I conferred with my Filipino colleagues Neil Ongoco (from Quezon City) and Andrew Nicolas (from Los Banos,Laguna.)
If we were let to go home, we’ll go altogether, we all decided. Neil was panting as he just came from the World Trade Center and saw the second plane crashed into the other tower. Neil then hurriedly went to the other building of the JP Morgan on the 45th floor. He witnessed the collapse of one of the towers and the sight made him sick to the stomach.
Everybody in the building was being directed now to go to the 4th floor which was being set up as a command center for the JPMorgan Chase entire personnel. Together with my Filipino friends and some other American colleagues, we made our way to the 4th floor. On our way down, we met two of our other Filipino friends Roy Magsino and Alvin Firme.
At the 4th floor, I found myself glued to the radio. My pager was receiving “BREAKING NEWS” one after the other giving me details on the extent of terrorism which was far reaching than anyone could imagine. A woman beside me, partially covered with dust debris, was sobbing. Others in the room was dumb founded on what was happening all around. For all of us, it seemed so surreal.
By this time around, all public and private transportation in Manhattan was put to a hold. All commercial air flights anywhere in the USA was stopped.
There was no way in and out of Manhattan using any kind of vehicle or transportation and the financial district was being evacuated. My four Filipino friends and me live in New Jersey and the only way out of Manhattan was through the George Washington Bridge (GWB), which is approximately eight to 10 miles away from our place .
With great uncertainty as to up to when the public transportation ban will be imposed and the threat of further attacks, we decided to trek to GWB to reach New Jersey. I called my wife, Eloisa and told her I was OK and that I was going home soon.
It was already 11:00 a.m. when the five of us started to leave the office. It was a horrible sight outside much like the one when Mt. Pinatubo erupted. Smoke and ashes made breathing difficult so we needed to cover ourselves with our hankies to be able to breath.
Along the way, Neil and Roy picked-up slightly burned documents as a remembrance. Neil was feeding us news from the radio he had with him. We were handed out masks by New York City’s emergency personnel who seemed to be everywhere.
We now have been walking for 2 hours and yet we were still far from the halfway mark. We were exhausted but each other’s company made it bearable. Resting along the way, a woman pitied us and gave us bottled water. It was really a touching gesture.
Neil then got information that the ferries are now accessible to the public. We were glad when we heard that because we can ride the ferries to cross the Hudson River to New Jersey. Now, we don’t need to trek to GWB.
We had another way out. We took our lunch at one of the opened McDonald’s stores and then passed by the Times Square where a big screen TV was showing the tragedy as it happened.
It was my first sight of the gruesome disaster that took place not far away from where I was this morning. People were in awe and most of them were furious. Some were almost into tears and we could hear people sobbing everywhere.
It was already 1:45 p.m. when we reached the waterway on the west side of Manhattan. There were a lot of people lined up already. Looked like a mass exodus but everything was in order. By 4:15 p.m., we were on the ferry carrying us across the river – to New Jersey.
One could clearly see the New York buildings from thereon where the two mighty towers once stood. All we can see now was a huge smoke rising up from where the towers stood before.
It was a total waste and I felt so sad about it. Upon reaching New Jersey we felt really glad and thankful because finally we made it out of New York safely and now on our way back home. During those time when the tragedy was happening, in some moment of silence, I never did forget to pray for the innocent people who died. I also prayed that God would continuously guide and bless me and take care of my family just in case anything happens to me.
At the ferry dock, we were met by Andrew’s wife with his daughter, who patiently waited for us for almost two hours. I saw a great relief on Andrew’s spouse face when he saw us.
It was already 7:30 p.m. when I came home. Upon entering the door of our rented apartment, my eldest son AJ, who is four (4) years old came running to me, hugged and kissed me. I paid respect to my mother-in-law who happens to be visiting us from the Philippines. I kissed my youngest son Louis and embraced my wife tightly and lovingly with slight tears in my eyes. I was extremely glad I was at home with my family on that “fateful” day.