NEW YORK CITY ON 9/11 'Little did I know: Our lives would never be the same'
The former Hubbard resident prayed and worried as the horrors of her workday in New York unfolded.
By DEBBIE MURPHY
SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR
NEW YORK CITY -- Sept. 11, 2001, started out like any other day, except that I was running late.
I had to pick up my dry cleaning, and the task was going to make me late for work for the first time. I was all stressed out, trying to get everything done at work so I could be stress-free for my Bahamas vacation that weekend.
I got on the subway and headed toward the city. As I sipped my morning coffee, I stared out the window and enjoyed the beautiful morning cityscape.
But as the train headed into a tunnel, my view of the city turned into darkness. The train was speeding along as usual for the first 20 minutes. However, right before my stop, the subway stopped. It was no big deal; the subway sometimes has to wait for other trains to leave the station.
But as the minutes went by, people were becoming more and more anxious. I looked at my watch: 8:53 a.m. I remember thinking that I could still make it to work on time if the stupid train would start moving again.
Finally, my exit
After a few minutes, it finally crawled into my exit. I shoved my way through the crowd and raced up the stairs. I was walking down the corridor when I heard an announcement that all train service was being halted.
"At least it happened after my stop," I said to myself. I started up the stairs leading to 14th Street. Little did I know … the world was different up there. And it was about to be even more different.
The first thing I noticed was that there were a bunch of people standing around, and everyone was looking up. My immediate thought: Someone was about to jump from a building.
Object in the sky
As my foot hit the last step, I put my hand on the rail and began to swing around. As my body turned, my eyes were following an object in the sky. Then in an instant, there was a huge ball of fire exploding in the sky.
But it wasn't the sky; it was a building, one of the twin towers. How in the world did the plane not see the building? That was my immediate thought.
Na & iuml;ve, yes, but then again, wasn't everyone that day? My next thought: People are up there. People are burning at this very moment. I looked around; everyone was on his or her cell phone. I picked mine up and dialed the number to my mom's work.
A few seconds later she picked up, but before I could say anything she asked if I was OK. I said yes, thinking she was just wondering why I was calling so early.
I told her that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. She said she already knew. I asked how she could possibly know, since it literally just happened in front of me seconds ago. Then she paused and said, "Debbie, that was the second one." It was only then that I looked back up at the towers and noticed plumes of smoke were coming from both towers.
Feared for victims
I can't begin to write down everything that was going on in my mind. I was thinking about the wives, the husbands, the sons and the daughters of those who were trapped in the building. So many na & iuml;ve thoughts ran through my mind: Maybe everyone got out; maybe the fire would be put out and that would be it. Little did I know: That day, the next year and the rest of our lives would just really never be the same.
Brother didn't call
My mom's worrying and mine didn't end when we hung up with each other. She hadn't heard from my brother, Scott, a cadet in the New York Police Department Academy. I figured he was fine because he was in the academy. Surely they wouldn't have sent him to the towers disaster site.
I walked slowly to work; I think it was the first time I actually paid attention to anything along the way. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the empty streets and silent sidewalks were something that lifelong New Yorkers hadn't ever seen.
I arrived at work and was greeted by the grim and heartbroken faces of my co-workers. We watched the scene unfold on television, and periodically would look out the window and down the street. After a little while, everyone began to leave the conference room and retreat to their offices. I watched TV for a few more minutes and was about to leave when I noticed that the scene on the television was somewhat different.
Pentagon is hit
It was no longer a picture of the towers burning; it was something else. Then I heard the words "The Pentagon has just been hit." I screamed for everyone to come back in, that the Pentagon had just been hit. Everyone rushed in, back to the places they were just minutes ago. I remember being really scared at that moment. What was next? Were they going to fly planes above and drop bombs?
A group of us decided to go to a church nearby.
The inside of the church was amazing. It looked like a miniature version of St. Patrick's Cathedral. We sat down and bowed our heads. Within seconds, I heard some commotion up front. Two women were standing by the altar. They were both crying hysterically.
I stared at them as they began to run down the aisle. One of them screamed: "We're at war! We're at war! They just hit Pennsylvania!" I bowed my head again, closed my eyes and began to stand up.
At that point I really felt like I was in a movie. Like this was all some practical joke. We said our prayers quickly and headed back to the office. I just wanted to get there and never move.
We got back to our building. I called my mom. She still hadn't heard from my brother, and I could hear the concern in her voice. I was trying to hold my feelings back, but I couldn't; I started crying.
I just wanted to be in New Jersey. I couldn't stand the fact that I was trapped in Manhattan. After a few minutes, I pulled myself together. The last thing my mom needed was to hear me fall apart.
We decided that even if the subways open, it would be better for me to stay at my office, because that's where Scott would probably come.
The minutes turned into hours, a clich & eacute; for most days, but not that day. Soon the bridges and subways opened; the city was beginning its recovery. Everyone left work but me. I was still anxiously waiting to hear from my brother.
I replied to all the e-mails I received throughout the day, but I was worrying more about Scott.
It was now almost 8 p.m., and I needed to figure out what I was going to do that night. My boss had reserved rooms at a hotel for anyone who couldn't get home that night, but I didn't want to stay at the hotel. I needed to have someone around me.
I called a friend who lived in the city. Her apartment was right by ground zero, but she was the only person I knew within walking distance. I called her to make sure I could get down that far because the streets where blocked off.
It felt weird to be walking toward the huge plume of smoke -- most people spent all day trying to get away. The farther I walked, the more I noticed the dust and the weird smell in the air.
My friend lived on Spring Street, right down the street from the buildings. Her street was blocked off, and cops weren't letting anyone through unless they had identification to prove they lived there.
To the hotel
I turned around and headed toward the hotel where my boss had reservations. As I walked up 2nd Avenue, I saw something amazing. People were everywhere. The cafes were packed. Everyone was meeting up with friends and relatives. I remember one particular table had 10 people around it, but no one was really talking. They were just sipping their coffees and watching other people. It seemed they just needed to be out with company.
As I walked farther uptown, the scene changed. I turned down the street where my hotel was and noticed the Armory, the place where families were asked to bring DNA samples of their loved ones.
The gates around the building were filling up with pictures and tributes. I walked into the hotel and got my room. As I opened the door, I remember being very happy to finally be somewhere. I laid down my stuff and opened the door to my balcony. I watched the soldiers guarding the Armory walk up and down the road.
I sat down and watched some of the endless TV coverage. I couldn't relax, though; another phone call to my mother ended the same way as the last 20, with no word from Scott.
I had seen some cadets walking around the streets and decided to go for a walk and see if I could find him. I just needed to know he was OK, or I would never be able to calm down.
I walked from street to street and thought I saw him a million times. It was close to midnight. I went back to the hotel and called my mom; still nothing
Another hour passed; it was around 2 a.m. I decided to give my mom another call. She answered the phone, but right away I could tell from her voice that she was hoping I was someone else. She said she'd heard from everyone except him.
A beep came through, my sister most likely. I waited while she answered it and began to wonder why it was taking so long for her to come back to me.
Relief at last
Finally she clicked back over, her voice a thousand times lighter. It was Scott, and he was fine. He was working on the FDR Highway and wasn't allowed to make personal phone calls. I talked to her for a few more minutes, both of us laughing about how worried we got.
As I hung up, I thought about all the other families who wouldn't be getting the same phone call. At that moment in time, there were thousands of wives, husbands, mothers, fathers and children waiting by their phones ... waiting for their call. But for many, the phone would never ring.