Sep 11, 2011 - 9/11, Blue Dog    Comments Off

World Trade Center 9/11 Attack: What happened to us

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We were just one of thousands of families affected—not the ones featured in the paper or on TV—just regular people

Stu Alpert at work in the American Stock Exchange.

This is a rewrite of my original 2001 story of the September 11, 2001 New York City World Trade Center Attack. Our hardships are minor compared to many who were hurt far worse than we were. This document is to testify that we were innocent bystanders hurt by the actions of a few.

I nearly lost my husband on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

He’s a Floor Broker at the American Stock Exchange on Trinity Place in NYC, one block from the WTC. He was outside having a cigarette when the first plane hit. He thought it was a sonic boom — until pieces of burning debris started raining down. He’s an Exchange Floor Official, and started herding people back into the building, where it was decided that people should stay, because there was no place to go and oily smoke and debris was raining down. He called me at home to say he was ok for the moment.

Later, when the second plane hit, many people were evacuated to the basement, or others left the building. He was helping conduct a floor-by-floor sweep of the Amex when the first tower collapsed. The windows blew out and smoke, ahs and burning debris began to flood inside. He and others put wet paper towels over their faces and ran for their lives through the black smoke. He made it south to the Battery and saw that tug boats were volunteering to load people to get them off Manhattan. While he got on the tugboat, he saw the second tower go down and a wall of smoke began moving south towards them. The boat set off and took the people to Hoboken NJ where the Red Cross put blankets and wet towels on the people.

He had no way to call and I thought for a while that we had lost him. When I saw the second tower fall, I began to prepare myself for the worst. No one could live through the devastation, I thought. My 12 year old daughter kept repeating the mantra “He’ll be all right he’ll be all right he’ll be all right”. Who could tell her that her Daddy may be gone?

At Hoboken he was met by Red Cross workers. He was in shock, but, typically, refused help. He was obsessed with the idea that he had to get home to our small town about 20 miles southwest of NYC. His car was parked in the Journal Square parking garage in Jersey City. “How do I get to Jersey City?” he asked. “Hold on, buddy. Sit down and relax” he was told. They wrapped a blanket around him and put wet towels on his head. “No, give these to someone who really needs them — just tell me how to get to Jersey City” he responded.

He couldn’t make out why the Red Cross workers looked bemused when they directed him to the bus stop in Hoboken. From there, he got on a crowded bus and made it to Journal Square in Jersey City. No fares were charged.

Journal Square was closed. The cops tried to tell him, he couldn’t get to his car and he became frantic and upset. “Don’t tell me I can’t get to my car! I’ve just been in a bombing!”

“Okay, Buddy. Calm down. We’ll get you in there,” said the cops, and escorted him to his car.

“Oh, Jeez — I left my car keys in my briefcase back at the Amex”.

He had a valet key in his wallet, but it only opened the car and wouldn’t start it. He was able to get his cell phone out of the car to call home. This was the first contact we’d had from him in 2 hours. My 12 year old daughter and I were frantic, watching the destruction on TV and crying.

The highways were blockaded, and I wasn’t allowed to drive the 10 miles to Journal Square to pick him up. He was able to crowd onto a bus to Newark Penn Station and from there boarded a NJ Transit commuter train.

We met him at the train. He was a little wobbly, and covered from head to toe with white soot. I was so relieved to see him, and we held each other for a long time. He cried later, when we were home and alone. He described it as “Armageddon”.

Ready to trade: Workers install conduit for power lines along Wall Street in preparation for September 16, 2001 opening of the stock markets. In the longest shutdown since
World War I, markets have been closed since the attack on the World Trade Center. (Sun photo by John Makely)

The week before, we had a big fight, and I was so mad at him. Today, I almost lost him forever, and right now, he looks very, very good to me!

Four of his work pals were found to have been attending a business breakfast at Windows on the World Restaurant on the top of the WTC. They, along with a hundred other brokers, traders and customers and 50 members of the restaurant staff are gone. Only one of his friend’s bodies has been identified so far, and we’ve attended one funeral and a memorial service so far. Six men from our small town are presumed dead, including the father of one of my daughter’s school mates. The next town over lost 8. Another, lost 11 people.

Two weeks later, he’s still not back to work. The Amex building is structurally sound, although filthy. There is limited phone, electric, and water service.. Trading will not resume there for at least another week. Specialists and brokers are being sent to the NYSE or Philadelphia Options exchange — but for a self-employed small businessmen like my husband and his partner, there will be no business transacted for a while. This means, also, no money coming in for our family or the small cadre of employees they support.

A telephone network of friends, associates, and Amex employees has developed to talk, reassure and worry together. My husband is holding up well, although I found him crying again the other day. One fellow was very close to the edge for a few days, but seems to have calmed down now, and is getting therapy.

Of course we’ll get through this, but I’m looking over my shoulder a lot. Thousands of our construction workers, firemen, police officers, friends and neighbors have dropped whatever they were doing to help in the rescue/clean-up effort in NYC. The rest of us pick up the slack for them. Last week (Friday) there was a spontaneous candlelight vigil, as people in our neighborhood gathered on street corners to light candles and talk.

Our daughter (right) and two pals raising money for the Red Cross at a local street fair. They made the ribbons and signs themselves.

We all hurt here in New Jersey. Knowing we’re all in the same condition around here, helps a bit — and hinders. We’re all very nice to each other in our daily business dealings, and offering huge amounts of labor, money and supplies to charity — but it’s hard to talk to anyone about our feelings, because the next guy has as much — if not more — to tell US in return. And we are looking over our shoulders all the time.

I was holding up pretty well for a while, but it started to get to me while I was reading the Sunday paper last week. Suddenly I was very overwhelmed by everything. A plane flying overhead makes me jump. When a newscaster “interrupts this program for a late-breaking news report” I get a gnawing feeling in my stomach. There could very will be more — or worse — attacks to come, and no one knows WHY.

Addendum October 1, 2001

The New York Stock Exchange building reopened on September 30, 2001. My husband returned to work for the first time since the attacks. He said everything within a 20 block radius is covered with a gritty gray ash, and that he had to take a very round-about way to get to the building because of police barricades. The wreckage is visible through the window in the DK room, and seeing it in person is nothing like seeing it on TV. It is staggering in size, towering 15 stories high.

Most people in the area seem to be very subdued and many people report that they are depressed by having to come in to work in that area.

The New York Daily News Said this in the 10/02/01 issue (“Bodies of 16 Bravest Found” MICHELE McPHEE and CORKY SIEMASZKO Daily News Staff Writers):

Candlelight vigil in one of our neighboring towns.

“A few blocks away from the wreckage, the American Stock Exchange’s 2,400 traders and clerks returned to their trading floor at 86 Trinity Place for the first time since the attacks.
Mixed Feelings Among Workers

Workers had to present identification at the police checkpoint at Trinity Place and Rector St. and pass through metal detectors at the building. Some had their bags inspected. Others were patted down by security guards.

“I’m scared to be here,” said 19-year-old Daniel Chipaio, a trader’s assistant from Bensonhurst. “If it was easy for [the terrorists] to do it the first time, why couldn’t they do it again?”

Elizabeth Fogerty of Manhattan, an Amex public relations worker, covered her face with her rabbit-fur shawl to avoid the pungent stench of burned metal and ash lingering in the air. “It can’t be good for you,” she said.

But as Gov. Pataki presided over the ringing of the opening bell, many employees said they were just happy to be back at work.

“A bell ringing is a good symbol that everything is beginning again,” said John Riccardi, 37, of Manalapan, N.J., who works in research. “I’m sure some people are nervous, but it’s nice to be back.”"

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