Eyewitness Account of Rodney Crumrine Received 9/16/2001
Dear Aunt Rosalie:
I know Roslyn sent you a short response letting you know that we are all safe. It has been hard to find the energy and focus, during these last five, unbelievable days, to compose a more fitting response. But I want to let you know how much we appreciate your concern and expressions of love. Though we have been blessed not to have suffered any personal loses, we know of so many who have. We have friends who missed being in harms way by only a few minutes that morning; close friends who work in the area and were only a few minutes from being either in the two towers or in buildings so close by as to wonder if they would have survived.
None of us have been close to the horrific site of destruction; the area is effectively sealed off for all but rescue personnel. The stories told to us by those who have been helping remove the rubble and the bodies leave me wondering how anyone can see life normally again.
Last Tuesday, I was at work on 32nd Street and Park Avenue about two miles due north of the World Trade Center. From the 19th Floor windows of our office we can see the towers and we gathered to stare at the towers after the first plane struck the north side of Tower 1. We all thought it was a terrible accident, but we could clearly see a gapping hole in the face of the building spanning 4 or 5 floors with smoke billowing out.
I was scheduled to attend a meeting at Queens Hospital that morning and needed to leave, so I walked away from the group staring in disbelief, to make a phone call. During the call muffled screams and moans went up from the group when they saw the second plane strike the other tower. We immediately knew it was intentional. In a daze and obviously not making very good decisions, I left the office for the meeting and walked to the subway a few blocks across town.
I got on a subway train about 9:30 AM, only knowing that both towers had been hit, but with no inkling that the worse was to come. I traveled about six miles east into Queens all underground not getting out of the subway station until about 10:30 AM. I then took a city bus for a short ride to the hospital only to find the meeting canceled. It was to have been a state inspection, with several state employees traveling to the hospital for this important event prior to their opening the new facility. People then informed me that one of the towers had collapsed, but I found this impossible to believe. The phone service was already being disrupted and it took some effort to find out that our office had been closed at 10:30. I then left the hospital and took the city bus back to the subway station, hoping to get a train back into Manhattan or at least over to Brooklyn. At 11:00 AM all the trains had stopped running, probably because the city did not know the extent of the terrorist activity. Several years ago a group of inept terrorist were arrested, planning to set bombs in the subway.
So here I was stranded in Queens, several miles from Eli who was in school about 5 miles north of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. I further learned that all surface access into Manhattan was halted. My cell phone would not work and Roslyn was not at home to answer my calls to her about Eli. At this time, no one had a clue what might come next to the city. I'm sure some people could envision more attacks on more buildings, maybe even the subway. No car services would take me to Brooklyn, but I finally got through to Roslyn, who informed me that one of our friends would retrieve Eli from school and get him to Brooklyn somehow. I decided my only option was to take city buses back to Brooklyn. Without a Queens bus map, I got some directions from a subway employee and proceeded to walk to a bus. It took me two hours and two slow bus rides through Queens and Brooklyn, before I got within walking distance of home. I finally got home at 2:30 and Roz came in at about 3:00. It was a tiring and sad trip. Thousands of people were on the streets walking; policemen with bull horns were outside subway stations telling people that the trains were not running. Many people who needed to travel further out to get home were wandering around trying to find a means to get home. Even the bus service was disrupted, throwing tens of thousands of people onto the streets with no real way of getting home.
Roz and I then went to retrieve Zach from his school which is just two blocks from home. All the parents were anxious and the children were a little bewildered. They had been told a bit of what had happened, but not much. It was heartrending to see children waiting with their teachers for parents that might not return. There were not many of them, but only one was too much too see.
Several of our friends and their children from Zach's school came to our house to regroup and wait for Eli and another friend of his at the school in Manhattan. By this time our friend had called to inform us that he had picked up the two boys from their school on East 93rd street in Manhattan at 2:30 and they were beginning their trip home.
They finally arrived home about 5:00; some of the subway service had been restored by that time. But not before our friend had walked from West 23rd Street to East 93rd Street to meet them - a distance of about 3 miles. He told us later that most of the time he and hundreds of others were simply walking up the middle of streets, the traffic was so light.
We have spent the last days trying to adjust to the new reality of the city. Smoke from the collapsed towers passed over Brooklyn for two days, bringing with it an acrid, burnt odor which irritated the eyes and gave a strong, unpleasant presence to the catastrophe. From the roof of our four story building you had a clear sight of the twin towers and the only thing you could see now was that the towers had vanished and unending, billowing smoke came from that 'hole' in the skyline. During the 10 minutes I spent on the roof, I saw pieces of ashes in the shape of business paper floating past. As the crow flies, we are probably about 4 miles from the site.
Schools were closed on Wednesday, so I stayed home and we spent most of the day playing baseball in the local park with all our friends. The weather was beautiful.
During all those days until Saturday, the city skies have been eerily silent. They are usually filled with airplanes. Even the streets were quiet in our neighborhood. With so many bridges and tunnels closed, most trucks could not get into the city. People also simply stayed home. We are so much ruled by our habits and the routines that we expect to see, that the disruption to all the city's usual goings-on, really confused people. We not only did not know how to deal with this terrible loss of life, but also the very fabric of the city was pulled from beneath us.
Zach asks questions indicating he is trying to understand how a huge building which appears to all of us and is understood by all of us as permanent could simply disappear. We have all seen the images of the two buildings collapsing so many times now, but the repetition does not make the reality any more acceptable in our minds.
On Thursday, I accompanied Eli back up to his school and returned to work. We spend a lot of time reconnecting with friends and coworkers, sharing stories and making sure everyone is OK. Every third or fourth call though, you hear of a sister of an acquaintance or a spouse of a friend's coworker who is missing. One of our acquaintances from the local elementary school, was exiting the subway on Tuesday, about to enter one of the towers when she saw the second plane strike. She immediately returned to the subway and went back to Brooklyn. By the time she got to her children's' school, both of the children were in the Principal's offices wondering if their mother was alive. Another friend works in the state court system which is near the World Trade Center. He was going to work on the subway. Part of his subway ride is above ground over one of the East River bridges. From the bridge he could see the first tower burning. He got to his stop, came out of the station ended up running up the street to escape the clouds of debris and smoke coursing away from the buildings.
When Tower 1 collapsed, five of the television stations lost their transmitters and tower. If you don't have cable, which we do not, you could only get one TV channel. Even today, we can only get two with very poor reception. Cell phones were out for a full day and it is very hard to get long distance calls in or out of the city. Mostly this is that the available lines are so jammed with calls.
In our neighborhood, which is typical of dozens in the city, all the businesses have notices of relief and aid efforts. Roz spent several hours yesterday helping organize relief from a neighborhood book store which had made itself a clearinghouse of goods, clothing and food being sent to the rescuer workers. Our local fire house has 13 firefighters missing, so donations are being collected for the families. A school teacher friend from the neighborhood teaches at an elementary school just across the street from the towers. The school was successfully evacuated, but she tells of these very young children seeing the two towers in flames knowing that some of them had parents working in them. Their school is closed and cannot be used at this time. If they lived in any of the many, large apartment buildings next to the World Trade Center, they have not been able to get back into their homes. So many lives disrupted.
So we have spent the last few days trying to comprehend what has happened; trying to generate some energy and focus for our usual activities. It was very difficult to get anything accomplished at work last week. Nothing I do at work appears to have much real importance viewed against the tasks being performed by so many at the rescue site. We left the city today; had a hike in the woods about 90 minutes north of the city. It was another beautiful day. We have had only a few hours of rain on Thursday since this whole thing began.
But we have much to be grateful for. Your calls of concern and those of other friends mean so much. The city is a huge, resourceful place. The sharing and real concern from within and without the city has been truly inspiring. It should give the heart a lift to see so many men and women rise together with such kindness against such evil acts. We get up each day and do a little better. Give my love to Mema.
Love to you,
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