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Scenes of destruction shattered peaceful day

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It was a beautiful morning — the sky was a deep blue and the fall was just around the corner — as I headed over to the gym on the Lower East Side to get in an early morning workout before heading to Queens and the tumult of Election Day.

As I worked up a sweat the news flashed over the three television sets — all on different channels — that planes had smashed into the World Trade Towers. A few minutes later, as I headed to my nearby apartment on Norfolk Street people began pouring out of buildings on Avenue A to watch as the Twin Towers burned and smoldered like two giant candlesticks.

“Head down to the Towers and see what’s going on,” said my editor, whom I had contacted by cell phone.

Grabbing my bike messenger bag, camera and a few random note books scattered around the apartment, I rushed downtown amid the sirens screaming from all directions as taxis and cars pulled off of the streets.

After the first wave of people passed me as I moved down East Broadway, another group covered in a white ash began heading my way.

Shaking, confused and disorientated, a women said “it fell” as she tried to grasp the collapse of Tower 2. As she spoke her lip began to quiver and seconds later her emotions began pouring out. A man ripped a cloth in half, handed it to her and started to comfort her as she wiped away her tears.

“You see that crap in the movies not on Primary Day,” a man screamed as he passed us. I looked into the woman’s eyes and she had a far-away gaze as if this was the end and she did not know where to turn.

As I walked around the streets, people stopped each other to tell their stories. One man who had just moved from England said he skipped his breakfast meeting in Windows on the World to spend more time with his wife. When he ascended from the subway, he saw the towers on fire and people jumping.

Time seemed to stand still even though I was wearing a watch. I weaved in and out the streets between West Broadway, Church Street and Broadway interviewing people, watching crowds make their way uptown and staying out of the way of MTA buses bringing medical supplies and doctors to a triage site.

“There was nothing for us to do down there,” said my father, a school doctor who arrived on one of the buses. “We were ready, but the injured never arrived.”

My wife, who works at Bellevue Hospital, said the emergency room was on alert, but again no seriously injured were brought in. There were some, but the thousands who were expected never came.

Around 1 p.m. I was on Canal Street. There were hoards of people gathered around parked trucks and cars listening to what was going on. The white ash that was once the World Trade Center was stretched to Canal Street and it became thicker and thicker the closer you got to what became known as Ground Zero.

As I walked back down Church Street, I ran into Ridgewood resident Simon Koscinski, who was sitting on a stoop with a bandage on his head.

“I didn’t expect this,” he said. “I though the police would remove everybody to safety. It was like a volcano with the ash coming down from the sky.”

Koscinski, who was doing construction work near the towers, said body parts, papers and flaming plane parts fell around him.

“No one expected the top to come down, nobody said we should move,” he said. Diving under a truck saved his life.

It was late afternoon and as I wound up at Broadway near Duane Street, my throat, eyes, skin, nose and scalp itched. It seemed to be a press point where others from the print, radio and television media were camped out staring forward, rubbing their eyes and trying to comprehend what had happened.

Around 4 p.m. World Trade Tower No. 5 crashed to the ground, sending up another plume of ash into the smoke and darkness that had enveloped the area where the towers once stood.

“I am going to try to get back to the office,” I told my editor over the phone.

Starting back, I bumped into Father George Rutler, who knew the Fire Department priest Mychal Judge, who died. He had been at the World Trade Center giving last rites and absolution to the firemen going into the buildings. He described the scene as something out of Hiroshima or an old World War I film.

Pointing uptown, the priest said “that looks like heaven” and pointing downtown toward the World Trade Center, he said “that looks like hell.”

I then made my way through Chinatown, Little Italy the Bowery and the Lower East Side. At the F line subway station behind the Seward Park houses, officers from the 105th Precinct in Queens Village were standing guard.

“It is running,” one of the officers said, referring to the F train.

I bought a soda and some pretzels and headed underground. I slumped into the seat and wondered how I was going to get from Jamaica to Bayside. I emerged on Jamaica Avenue at the end of the F line and called to arrange for another reporter to pick me up.

In the office, other reporters who had spent the day covering the story around Queens were busy pumping out copy. In a gravely voice I recounted what I had seen. Sitting in front of my computer, I stared at the blue screen, flipped through my notes and started to write.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:21 pm, October 10, 2011
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