Guest Column: The day that terror came to Manhattan
Editor’s Note: Christina Nelson is a senior at New York University. She is a 1998 graduate of Douglas High School and worked for two summers as an intern at our sister paper, the Nevada Appeal in Carson City. Her parents live in Gardnerville, Nev..
NEW YORK CITY -Walking north along the east side of New York City, there were moments Tuesday afternoon when I could have sworn that it was just another day in the city.
People were eating at outdoor cafes, bike messengers were weaving between cars and pedestrians were jaywalking.
I was on my way to the NYU Medical Center with a group of friends to donate blood a couple of hours after the World Trade Center had collapsed. We had to walk a mile and a half from our apartment to the hospital after being turned away by two other nearby hospitals. They already had too many donors to handle.
Every now and then, while crossing an avenue, I would look south and the huge cloud of black smoke covering lower Manhattan would remind me that even this mighty city – whose citizens often act like they’re invincible – is vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
“We’re under attack!” screamed a man carrying pamphlets and frantically making his way through a crowd on Park Avenue. “Wake up folks! Repent!”
“People like that do not help the situation,” said my roommate, Jen, who was joining me on my mission to donate blood.
People walking from lower Manhattan were wearing masks because of the dust caused by the collapse of the towers.
Signs had been posted on pay phones and street lamps asking people to go to the nearest hospital to donate blood. Beth Israel Medical Center across the street from my apartment had a line two blocks long of people waiting to give blood.
Everyone was on the street. All public transportation was shut down and those evacuated from south Manhattan were forced to trek uptown to get home or a place where they could stay for awhile.
On First Avenue – a street with a couple of large hospitals – cars were parked on sidewalks and police officers and volunteers were directing both automobile and foot traffic.
New Yorkers are accustomed to a certain level of noise in the city including sirens. But this afternoon the sirens were a constant. Then around 5 p.m. they stopped, which was perhaps more eerie than this morning when I received a call from my roommate who had left a little before me to meet a professor.
Surprised to hear her voice on the phone, Jen said: “Christina, grab my camera and get down here. Something exploded and I think it was the World Trade Center.”
I wasn’t sure I believed her.
I grabbed her camera, then grabbed mine. On my way out the door I ran into a classmate who was going to meet me so we could walk to class together. He hadn’t heard anything about an explosion either.
Union Square Park – right between the Greenwich Village and Gramercy neighborhoods of New York – was filled with people staring south at the two buildings with large cracks running horizontally across and visible flames pouring out the cracks.
We all decided to go to class – not knowing what else to do with ourselves. University Place, a street that runs directly from my apartment to campus, was filled with people staring at the World Trade Center. Some were trying to get through to family and friends on cell phones; others were lined up at pay phones. Parked cars all the way to campus had their doors open and their radios on so people could listen to radio reports. We stopped at a van for a couple of minutes and heard that two commercial jets had hit the buildings.
My class, which on a normal day would meet for 2-1/2 hours, only met for 30 minutes. After class was dismissed I stopped by the office of one of my professors in the history department. She was checking out the Drudge Report on-line after just witnessing the collapse of the first tower.
“I have a friend who lives on the 32nd floor of Silver Towers (an NYU apartment building that houses faculty members),” she said. “They always talk about how they would have a perfect view of the Statue of Liberty if the World Trade Center wasn’t there.”
We laughed, but not for long.
When the second tower collapsed I was walking home through Washington Square Park.
I don’t have a television so my roommate and I headed straight for our computers to read about the attack on the Internet and listen to the radio.
My e-mail inbox was full of names I hadn’t seen for months – friends who were worried about me. Even my father, who lives in El Salvador and who I haven’t seen in three years, had a friend write to me. My father couldn’t contact me himself because he’s currently in Berlin, his friend wrote.
My friends and I, not knowing what to do with ourselves, paced around my room and hung our heads out my window to stare at the hole where the World Trade Center used to be.
This wasn’t a typical day in New York City, and it made me think that New Yorkers and Americans don’t realize how lucky they are: there are places in the world where dealing with an event like Tuesday’s attack is part of a daily routine.
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