Letter from the i editor: A first-hand account of 9/11


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The Independent Online

Tuesday 11 September 2001 dawned crisp and blue. I walked my bright-eyed daughters through SoHo to their new school. They had left the Battery Park Day Nursery, a block away from the World Trade Centre, in June. We would look up in awe every day as we walked through what was not yet Ground Zero.

In school, a parent said a “small plane” had hit the World Trade Centre. We rushed outside, bewildered. I saw a plane disappear behind the other tower. Then, an explosion. A second hit? No, said a New York know-all, “heat combustion”. Dazed, I caught the last subway to work near Grand Central station. I walked in, saw a TV news screen and immediately dashed to catch a 6-train back downtown.

No luck. I ran the 40 blocks to school, pausing only to see a tower fall as I passed a TV screen. Their mother had got there first. We had another little girl with us. She was sleeping over that night. Her mother was in Europe. Her father, whom we couldn’t reach, had gone back into their WTC area apartment for the dog, but had to flee with their new-born under his T-shirt as the buildings came crashing down. He was evacuated to New Jersey. We didn’t know any of that for two days.

As I ran home, I saw dust-covered zombies walking north as if from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. TV told us about the other two planes. Was it war? Should we flee? To where? Bush was invisible, the despised Giuliani impressive. We watched and watched until the girls screamed to turn it off. The smell was awful, the silence eerie. Only military helicopters broke it.

We were the first block north from Ground Zero not to be forcibly evacuated, but SoHo was a restricted zone. That night there was a deep rumble. From the Broadway window I saw a dozen refrigerated trucks heading south in convoy. They were going to collect bodies. Only there weren’t any.

My Ma lived through 1945 with German soldiers in her village. 9/11 was the closest I have ever come to knowing that fear. And it wasn’t that close. People in Tripoli, Kabul and Baghdad have lived with this fear and worse on a daily basis. If I learnt anything from 9/11, it’s that we need to remember them too.