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COLUMN SIXTY-FOUR, OCTOBER 1, 2001
(Copyright 2001 Al Aronowitz)


THIS COULD HAVE BEEN YOU

EYEWITNESS ADVENTURE

Subject: Checking in after recent events
Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2001 11:41:12 -0400
From: NormanS <normans@escape.com>
To: AGALIST-owner@yahoogroups.com
 

September 11, 2001

Dear Friends:

I just wanted to inform, reassure, and thank all well wishers who have either phoned or emailed us, relatives from England, Israel and Russia and my friends from California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and elsewhere, that my entire Savitt family is well and so are those of my son's mother, the Rahoy's, as well as my good friends the Kupferberg family and Mr. William Coupon.

We do seem to have lost in this terrible tragedy many friends and associates, however.

My father did have a meeting scheduled this afternoon at the World Trade Center and we did have some panicky moments this morning when he couldn't immediately be located. As it was he was uptown and had to walk some 55 blocks to get home once he heard the news, but this was not at all difficult for him, being the most robust 80 year old person I know of.

While preparing to leave this morning I heard a very loud noise that sounded exactly like thunder. I noticed my radio soon went dead but I did not link these events together. I arrived by subway near my office in downtown manhattan, some 20 blocks north of the World Trade Center (WTC), to see great crowds of people all around the streets and sidewalks all looking up at a burning Tower with huge holes in it. Tremendous clouds of brown smoke were blowing in an easterly direction.

I arrived at my office and after listening to the radio for a bit the determination was made for us all to immediately go home. I assembled water bottles and dust masks for everyone and most left to walk back to Brooklyn. My son's mother, who works about 5 blocks away from the WTC, left work immediately after the first signs of trouble, walking over the Brooklyn bridge directly to my son's school where she picked him up and brought him home. I stayed in my office alone till I heard from my father and my son. I grabbed my digital camera and walked to the West side highway.

Standing on top of a concrete barrier at about Laight street and taking many pictures, I watched a huge but orderly exodus of perhaps 100,000 people walk north on the right side of the highway, some quite visibly upset and some wounded. On the left side of the highway traveling south went emergency vehicles of every description, police cars with sirens wailing, fire engines, buses, bulldozers, backhoes and other excavation equipment. A loud noise was heard and everyone turned around to see the 2nd tower collapse downward, a very sorry sight to see.

After a little while the police continued to have everyone keep moving north again. A lot of people were trying to use their cell phones but none looked like they were working. After about an hour, some of the police cars and fire engines that were going south were covered with debris, a fine powder the color of sand, pieces of walls and papers, evidently they had come from the WTC area earlier and were now returning.

There were many people who stopped to take photos or videos, but most kept on moving. The flood of humanity began to trickle down and soon thereafter it was announced by megaphones that there was a gas leak in the immediate area and an explosion was feared. I and everyone else ran out of there. I headed east and doubled back downtown stopping at a barrier at sixth avenue and Walker street.

There I met an old friend, David Peel, a former member of John Lennon's Plastic Ono band. We talked and looked at the fire and smoke, emergency vehicles going north and south, photographers, camera crews and many persons standing around looking distraught. Soon David and I were being interviewed by a camera crew from Korean TV, but David took it over as I was feeling numb. The sun was very hot on that street and I began to feel like my face was burning up, so David and I embraced each other and parted company.

I stood on a small line to an open fire hydrant on the street where people were refilling their water bottles. I also washed my face and I noticed a woman washing her feet, debris on her sandles. I soon heard that the footpath on the Brooklyn Bridge was closed in both directions, and people were walking to Brooklyn over the Manhattan Bridge only, so I decided to stay in Manhattan for a while longer to try to rest up for the long trek home.

I made my way over to the southern most barrier on Greenwich street and then up a block to Hubert street and sat on top of a newpaperbox watching the smoke and mayhem, and continued to take photos till all my batteries died. Two elderly gentlemen stood next to me and told me how they had survived Pearl Harbour and how this all had a similar feeling to it. It felt and continues to feel like a war zone, no doubt about it.

We talked at length to another man who told us of working at the WTC this morning and fleeing down 40 flights of stairs with hundreds of people to watch the building he had been working in collapse about 30 minutes after he had left it. Crowds of people all over the place were talking to survivors. A very messed up looking fire engine and crew, covered with debris, with all windows broken traveled north and everyone on the streets applauded them as they passed.

After a little while it was soon apparent that the 40 story building about 20 blocks directly south of us, World Trade Center Number 7, was on fire and a rumor went around the crowd that it too was going to fall down. We could all see the flames getting bigger and bigger and then the building began to be covered with a thick black smoke, different then the huge plumes of thick sand colored smoke still coming from where the WTC used to be. I took out my dust mask, an old blue and aluminum colored canister type and I noticed that a lot of people began to photograph me.

I was also was wearing my Yonkers paddling club t-shirt, for the first time. My camera batteries at about this point had died, so I decided to leave and walked across a deserted Canal street, whose roads were filled with dump trucks, and across the Manhattan Bridge with thousands of people. After walking about 3-4 miles I made it back to my neighborhood in Brooklyn at about 7pm to find it covered with a foul smelling smoke that drifted over the east river from the carnage in Manhattan. It smelled exactly like burning phenolic plastic, a material I used to work with when I was a machinist.

Remembering that the fumes of this particular material are quite harmful and worried about my little pet bird, I literally ran to my apartment to close my windows. And after I had closed my windows I could still smell the fumes, so I had to hermetically further seal my windows with wet towels.

Without the huge antennae that was on top of the WTC, I found only one station worked on my TV set, CBS, as I don't have cable. WNYC AM radio, which wasn't working in the morning had come back, though at an obviously lower power.

I had 12 messages on my answering machine, but I am unable to make long distance calls at this time. Email seems to work just fine, though. I heard of a call for blood donors so I put on my mask and bicycled over to the blood center and then on to Long Island College hospital. Both places had run out of blood donor supplies a few hours before but were hoping to reopen tomorrow at 9am, so I will be returning then. Not sure when I will be returning to work.

New Yorkers---please write me back and let me know if you are OK!!

Hope you all are well,  

Norman Savitt
(C) Norman Savitt 2001  ##

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