» Issue 30: Autumn 2001
Letter from Greenwich Village
Sandy Eames writes of his personal experiences in New York, in the aftermath of 11 September.
On September 11 2001, New York, the USA and the civilised world were changed forever, and America lost its innocence. I
live in Greenwich Village in New York City, and this letter captures my personal experiences, and the recent emotions and feelings of this great city.
Going into NYC? -fuhgedaboutit!
My own story was that I left NYC at 8 am to attend meetings with a client in Mahwah, in northern New Jersey. On my drive out, the attacks began on the World Trade Centre (WTC). New York rapidly became a fortress, with no access, leaving me with no way to return to the city and care for my 16 year old daughter, at school in Brooklyn. The company I was visiting, Datascope, makes patient monitors (very good ones in my view as I had a major role in their design!), and they decided to loan 80 to NYC hospitals.
This was my chance to join a convoy back in. This we did, joining up with a police escort, who drove us at amazing speed into a strangely changed New York. People were everywhere, but had little to do except be out on the streets, which had been suddenly closed to vehicles.
We dropped about 30 monitors off at St Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village, where the emergency room had expanded to take over a whole block of 7th Avenue. We did the same at Chelsea Piers, a large recreational facility, where a movie studio had been converted into a makeshift 50 bed operating room in just six hours.
My daughter was able to make contact and stay ovemight with a
family friend in Brooklyn, close to her school, so avoiding having to walk back to New York (the subways had stopped).
Cheering on the rescue workers
The West Side Highway has been closed since the attack, and still is a steady stream of emergency and construction vehicles from all over the country, flowing down to the WTC site.
Here is an example of why this town will survive and prosper. Large crowds gathered on the highway to cheer on construction and emergency vehicles heading south, and give out bottled water to drivers (1). They are still there three weeks later.
Face masks have been needed when the wind blows north (2). This is the author in Washington Square.
Firehouses besieged by love
It's at the firehouses that I have the most difficulty. So many have lost so many. There are multiple instances of whole companies being lost. Over 340 firefighters are missing, plus many other emergency services staff, especially police.
The firefighters appear to have carried on going up the stairs in the WTC towers to help people escape, despite the knowledge that the buildings could fall. True heroes!
This is the view at my local firehouse where all seven firefighters are missing (3), (4), and views from other firehouses (5), (6). This scene is repeated at many firehouses and police stations around the city.
Another very emotional sight is the many posters that relatives and friends have put up allover town, hoping to find missing loved ones. Here is a typical display on the outside of a neighbourhood deli (7), (8A/B). Another shows what I believe to be pictures of a missing young husband, left by his wife (9).
The sheer scale of the number of missing is hard to comprehend. The rescue workers cannot even locate much of the missing concrete from the buildings, such was the ferocity of their collapse. Many families will never have a body to bury, stalling the grieving process.
The other horrendous statistic is the impact on surviving children. Possibly 10,000 to 15,000 children may have lost a parent in this tragedy. Many victims were young parents in their 30s and 40s, and lived in the suburbs. I have heard stories of 72 victims from one small NJ town of 70,000 people, and another of a school in CT that lost 80 parents.
Many ad hoc memorials have been set up. Here are two views from Union Square at 14th Street, with notes written by everyone who cares (10). They have even set up an impromptu memorial in the middle of the Square (II).
I am still adjusting to the new spirit of politeness, neighbourliness and friendliness. But I always found it that way -it's just that New Yorkers are in a hurry, and tend to be short with slower speakers often misunderstood for rudeness. But just let an elevator stall, and everyone's life history will be known by the time it moves again!
Fortunately, I have not lost any close friends, but I have many friends who have. I went to a memorial service for a young mother and volunteer yesterday -I ran a Little League of 750 children in
1996-99 in Greenwich Village and I still have many friends locally. One lost several friends from the financial community, many of a lifetime's standing. Forced out of his home in Manhattan due to lack of power and water, when offered the chance to spend a weekend with friends in Long Island, he responded "Why would I want to leave New York? This is my home." I feel the same way.
Another difficult sight -about 30 refrigerated trucks, chillers running full bore, parked on the West Side highway. Unfortunately the meat they are there to store is not from animals (12).
The city is still a maze of police barriers, manned by friendly police, often ones from out of town who do not know the local streets. As I live below 14th Street, I had to cross one to get home during the first week, showing a driver's license for ill.
Grim but determined
The mood here is grim, but determined. Strangely it is not angry maybe that will come later. Instead, there is heavy sadness, and many are volunteering in any way they can.
I think my children are coming through it OK. My daughter remains a little jumpy, and my son is away at college, and is somewhat removed from the sights and smells.
Others have had a tougher time. The 13 year old daughter of my squash partner was at Stuyvesant High School. This has (had) a wonderful view of the lower Manhattan skyline. The children saw it all -the planes hitting, people jumping. Told to run north for their lives when the towers fell, these children are still suffering.
Today, I am even more proud than ever before of being a (British) American, but more that I am a New Yorker and damned proud of it.
Stay well and God bless you all,
Sandy Eames (Elec 1970) has lived in New .York City for 21 years and works as a Business Development Consultant in the medical device industry. He was widowed in 1999, and has two teenage children. He can be contacted by Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.