PREFACE: I wrote the following blog post on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks last year. I wanted to pay tribute to the seminal anniversary by digging deep in order to answer questions I had developed over the previous ten years. This isn’t about conspiracy theories or any of that buffoonery; just all that transpired in the seconds, weeks…months and years after 19 religious zealots hijacked four American-owned planes and by slamming three of them into two buildings, and one in a field in rural Pennsylvania, killed just under three thousand people.
In past 12 years, I’ve learned what happened; how it happened; the order of events. I even know more about jihad than I ever wanted to. We all know what happened, why it happened and and how hatred and the skewed ideology that perpetrated it. But there’s still much to learn about that fateful day, such as those little known back stories that never made it to Fox News or The Today Show or on any of those anniversary specials on Biography or the History Channel, narrated by the always eloquent, Edward Hermann.
This is detailed post unchanged since 2011 and its all about the events in New York City on September 11th, 2001 and how it changed me…us…and in many ways, the entire the world.
I grew up in the clutches of the Cold War. With the nuclear threat constantly looming from the former U.S.S.R., Ground Zero once refered to the point on the ground directly below the detonation of a nuclear or hydrogen bomb.
Now, practically the whole world calls 16 acres in lower Manhattan, the scene of the worst terror attack on US soil, Ground Zero. It was where the Twin Towers, two 110 story behemoths once stood. What occurred here and at two other locations ten years ago was and still is unfathomable. Thousands of people woke up that balmy Tuesday morning to go to work at a nondescript fire station in Mid Town; to show up for first shift duty at the 1st Precinct; to fly back home from a weekend wedding; to attend a conference in Los Angeles; to work on 93rd floor of the North Tower; as a window washer in the South Tower; to finish up a few things in the office located along the E- ring corridor at the Pentagon. To pilot the last leg of a cross-country trip in a 767, the pride of United Airlines’ fleet.
When the sun set on that tragic day ten years ago, the Pentagon had been attacked and 125 people were killed. Passengers on board United Flight 93 sacrificed their lives when they valiantly thwarted the hijackers’ plans to strike another suicide mission target in Washington, DC, but sadly, tragically, Manhattan became of the epicenter of terror, utter destruction and so much death on that dreadful day.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
American Airlines Flight 11 took off from Logan International Airport in Boston that morning, en route to Los Angeles. It began as a very routine flight and unremarkable, but 15-minutes into the flight, the five hijackers, all members of al-Qaeda, incapacitated at least three members of the flight crew and one passenger, forcibly breached the cockpit, and overpowered the pilot and first officer. Mohamed Atta, who was trained as a pilot took over the controls. Air-traffic controllers noticed the flight was in distress when the crew stopped responding to them. They realized the flight had been hijacked when Atta mistakenly transmitted announcements for passengers to air traffic control. Passengers and the remaining flight crew were forced to the back on the plane. There, Flight Attendants, Amy Sweeney and Betty Ong were the first to alert American Airlines that the plane had been hijacked. They were also able to give vital information about the hijackers, such descriptions and seat locations.
The aircraft crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 AM EST. The impact killed all 92 people aboard and an untold number of people in the building. Almost immediately, it became painfully aware to many in the know that this was intentional and not the result of some confused pilot in a Cessna who’d lost his way trying to follow the meandering shoreline of the Hudson on a perfectly clear Indian Summer morning.
And this was no Cessna either. The towers were a perfect square, each side measuring 208 feet across. The plane that hit the North Tower was a 767 with a wingspan of 156 feet. Fire and smoke billowed from the gaping hole it created which extended across most of the facade. You could see the faint outline of the plane exactly where it entered the tower. Keep in mind that most of the mass of a plane is contained within the fuselage, inner wing structure, and engine nacelles. The outer wings and tail surfaces are much lighter structures consisting mostly of a thin skin enclosing empty space. Upon colliding a thick wall composed of a dense material like stone or concrete, these light aerodynamic wings would simply disintegrate.
Flight 11 crashed into the tower between the 92nd and 98th floors at a speed of approximately 494 mph. From a kinetic standpoint, the energy of impact ranged from 2 billion ft-lb (2.6 billion Joules) to 3 billion ft-lb (4.1 billion Joules). The impact was so great that it caused the building to sway backwards about 10-feet and it was especially noticeable on the upper floors. Eyewitnesses reported that they feared it would topple over.
The fireball it created was huge. Jetliners in the 767 fleet can carry up to 23,980 gallons of Jet 1- A at take off. This is a derivative of kerosene. When it burns, it tend to reach higher temperatures . It’s estimated that at the time of impact, each aircraft had just under 20,000 gallons of unused fuel on board. Fireballs fed by office air-filled with atomized jet fuel spilled out of the punctured north wall and adjacent east wall. The jet fuel actually burned off rather quickly but everything else it ignited still burned. A raging fire could be seen on all four sides of the building. It was fueled by carpets, wiring, papers, furniture, ceiling tiles and an almost endless list of other things that served as kindling that morning. The impact also damaged the sprinkler system on several floors.
And just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. A second plane hit the South Tower.
United Flight 175, carrying an estimated 19-thousand gallons of fuel, slammed into the southwest side at an estimated 537 mph. It created an impact hole that extended from the 78th to 84th floors. It hit the right side of the face at an oblique angle, and much of the fuselage emerged from the east corner. When the jet hit the South Tower, it cut off several routes of evacuating the 30 floors above the impact zone. It did leave at least one stairwell open and passable. The New York Times found at least 18 people who escaped unharmed through that stairwell. Most people above the crash zone had no idea it was a viable escape route and sadly, at least 200 climbed toward the roof in hopes of being rescued via helicopter. They assumed that since roof top rescues had been used in the 1993 bombing, that was still an option. But the doors leading to the roof were locked and even if they’d been open, the smoke was so thick, choppers couldn’t have gotten anywhere near the rooftop.
The evacuation began almost immediately. Those who made it out of the buildings and into the plaza encountered an incredibly gory scene. Many said they had to step over torsos and other body parts; some were charred and barely recognizable as such. It’s believed they came from above; blown out of the upper floors when the planes crashed into the buildings. Firemen and other first responders reported having to drive over body parts when they arrived at the World Trade Center.
As all of this horror unfolded in Manhattan, there were reports of other planes that couldn’t be accounted for; planes that had been hijacked and would be used as Flights 11 and 175 had been: as guided missiles. Their targets were anyone’s guess.
“A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!!!”, would be a phrase uttered a million times that day. And the horror of it all was reserved for anyone watching…be it in New York from a block away or on a TV in a small town in Arizona. Frightening, terrifying, chaos and pandemonium were all apt descriptions of the situation. And that covers the reactions of those watching everything unfold. It’s almost impossible to imagine what it was like for the people in the towers, more specifically, the floors that were directly impacted and those above feeling the awful effects.
One of the most horrific sights in a day rife with them was that of people plunging to their deaths.
According to eyewitnesses, the jumping started shortly after the Flight 11 struck the North Tower at 8:46 a.mm (EST). Most came from the North Tower’s 101st to 105th floors, where the firm, Cantor Fitzgerald had offices. Others fell from the 106th and 107th floors, where a conference was underway at the renown Windows on the World restaurant. Others leaped from the 93rd through 100th floor offices of Marsh & McLennan. At these locations, it wasn’t flames that forced people to make the horrific choices that turned them into 9/11’s most public victims; it was intense smoke and heat. It’s estimated that temperatures in and around the fires in both towers could have gotten as high as 760°C 0r 1400° F. In the smoke-filled offices above the fires, it would have been terribly hot and very difficult to breathe.
Nearly all the jumpers were from the north tower; Fewer than a dozen were from the south tower. The reason? The fire was more intense and compact in the North Tower. The jet hit higher, so smoke was concentrated in 15 floors compared with 30 floors in the south tower. The North Tower also stood longer: 102 minutes vs. 56 minutes. Twice as many people were trapped on the North Tower’s upper floors than in the South Tower.
Some may have jumped for literally, one last breath of fresh air. Others could have fallen unintentionally, perhaps blinded by smoke and they could have stumbled out a broken window. Or some might have accidentally been pushed out in the crush of people frantically trying to reach an open window…just to be able to breathe.
One man tried desperately tried to rappel down the side of the tower using what looked like clothing and draperies, but he couldn’t hold on, and fell. There were also reports that some tried a crude form of parachuting down from the upper floors, but the velocity generated by the speed of their fall tore the drapes, the tablecloths or whatever fabrics they were able to find, from their grip.
They jumped solo, in pairs…and reportedly, in groups of three and four. USA Today estimated that roughly 200 people died this way. They became the most public victims of the September 11th attacks.
Jumpers proved dangerous to those on the ground, too. One firefighter was killed by a falling body. As Fire Commissioner, Thomas Van Essen exited the North Tower to meet Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a body landed just 15 feet away from where he’d been walking.
On the south side, firefighters reported 30 to 40 bodies on the roof of the 22-floor Marriott Hotel, adjacent to the north tower. On the west side where the big bronze globe was located, bodies and body parts littered the plaza.
Falling bodies also crashed through the awning covering the VIP driveway, leaving gaping holes in the roofing. Blood covered the glass walls and revolving doors that led to the plaza from the second-floor mezzanine in the north tower.
The fall from the upper floors of either tower lasted 10 seconds. Bodies struck the ground at just under 150 miles an hour which wasn’t fast enough to lapse into unconsciousness while falling, but definitely fast enough to ensure instant death on impact. Eyewitnesses say when the bodies landed, the damage was unspeakable. In some cases, the bloody mass of flesh, bone and viscera was barely recognizable as ever having been human.
The sight of people jumping or falling saved lives, too. In the South Tower, people in their offices had a veritable front row seat of this terrible spectacle. Keep in mind that this was all unfolding only 140 feet in front of them in a building that was identical to their own. Many South Tower survivors said the sight of people jumping created an urgency that caused them to leave immediately and ignore announcements that it was safe to return to their desks.
As a result, about 1,400 people evacuated the upper floors before the second jet hit.
When the planes tore through several stories of both towers, the impact knocked out essential structural columns within the buildings. Older NYC skyscrapers, such as the Empire State Building, were built with reinforced masonry. Its structural steel beams are encased within limestone walls or slabs of concrete 8 inches thick. This heavy mass provides exceptional fire protection that insulates the steel within from excessive heating. Many modern skyscrapers like the WTC towers eliminated this extensive use of stone and concrete to reduce cost. The World Trade Center instead relied on lightweight spay-on coatings for insulation. When the two jets hit the towers, this fireproof cladding was blown off and that meant the steel beams and floor trusses were exposed and unprotected from the raging fire.
And then there was all that fuel which ignited on contact. It acted like a flash flood of flaming liquid; something like a lava flow. It ran down the elevator shafts and literally destroyed the shafts and the sky lobbies–and anyone standing near the elevator doors on 78th, the 44th, the third floors and the basement. Several of the cables which operated the large express passenger elevators which service the sky lobbies, plunged to the main lobby level. At least one of those falling elevators was accompanied by a huge fireball that burst into the main lobby and concourse levels. Only four people are known to have survived in the south tower express elevators.
From a structural standpoint, even in the unlikely event that all of the columns and girders had survived the impact, the towers would fail as the result of a buckling of load bearing columns. The heat from the first wasn’t hot enough to melt the now unprotected steel, but it was enough to weaken it. Especially the support trusses, which weren’t as thick. As a result, the metal expanded, twisted and buckled and this reduced the building’s stability. Connections between vertical columns and floor trusses probably broke, dropping sections of floor on lower levels and breaking connections between the core and the perimeter wall, possibly causing columns along the perimeter to buckle outward. The entire structure was weakened to the point that it couldn’t hold the upper section of the building.
When this happened, true to the properties of physics, the top part of each building collapsed on top of each other. The collapse began at the top. Controlled demolitions begin from the bottom.
The South Tower crumbled first. Floor by floor; windows, walls and ceilings, and tons and tons of steel girders and I-beams fall to the earth. In all, an estimated 400-thousand ton building fell in on itself. Compression blew out windows in the floors immediately below the pancaking process. The downward force of gravity and momentum accelerated it and you could see puffs of smoke, as the immense pressure that sent debris, office equipment and everything else, flying out of breaking windows .
The North Tower fell 30 minutes later.
Some engineers argue that the very design of both towers may have contributed to its collapse. To meet the challenges of wind load, gravity load and related architectural stresses, the WTC’s structural engineers took a then-unusual approach in its construction. Both towers were built like a reverse donut. The inner core housed service risers, housed the elevator shafts and stairwells. The result was super-tall, super-wide office building with uniquely large expanses of column-free floorspace, suitable for just about any build out that a company who rented space could want. So basically, there was little support in the open floorspace, save for exterior walls and when most of the core was damaged–where most of the load was contained, a catastrophic failure, exacerbated by raging fires, was imminent.
It should be mentioned that when the towers were designed in the mid 60’s, they were built to withstand the impact of a 707, which at the time, was the largest plane in the Boeing fleet. It was a slightly smaller, lighter plane than the 767s that hit both towers. Reportedly, not one of the designers or engineers involved, ever took into account the fuel/fire connection.
It’s not clear how many were still alive at the time of both collapses. In the North Tower, it’s believed no one on the 91st floor or above is believed to have survived. The New York Times estimated that 1,344 died in the upper floors. It’s also been reported that at least two jumpers jumped or fell out of the windows as the North Tower began to crumble.
As soon as New Yorkers learned of the attack, they flocked to area clinics and impromptu drives to give blood. Hospitals called in every available staffer and remained on Level 3 alert. They waited and waited for the arrival of trauma patients–who would never come.
In those waning hours after the initial attack, as the nation emerged wounded and disoriented from a debris cloud of its own disbelief, its people were glued to TV sets. As reality continued to force feed us the acceptance of a most horrific situation, I realized that after witnessing so many interviews, a shape-shifting in the collective American consciousness was occurring. A rather laissez fare and cavalier attitude toward the government, foreign policy and national defense was rapidly changing in the course of one very event filled afternoon. The paradigm was shifting and a certain amount of nationalism and pride started to surface, in spite of the horror. But that was drummed into silence by an almost primal mélange of base emotions being discussed openly and honestly: despair, grief, anger, shock, dismay, rage, bitterness, disbelief, pain, revenge…
And fear. So much damn fear.
We’d been attacked by the most dangerous nemesis known to man: hate fueled by fundamentalist psychopaths who believed they were divinely inspired and justified by their version of God, to do as they pleased. Plus, this vicious, murderous event occurred on our own soil. It cost us our sense of security. We immediately stopped feeling safe and started feeling vulnerable. We felt duped, as if we’d been had, because the method used–and it must be said—was brilliant in its simplicity. It was treacherous in its total effectiveness.
Perhaps, that’s what made it even more frightening. That somewhere, somehow we, The United States of America, the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world with its extremely sophisticated method of intelligence gathering, had failed. We’d been breached by our own planes, in our own airspace and by a failed system of airport security checks and balances put there to protect us.
We were no longer impervious and September 11, 2001 exposed all of our vulnerabilities that were created out of our own misplaced arrogance.
By late afternoon of that awful, awful day, both towers had fallen, the Pentagon had been attacked, Building 7 collapsed and the news was confirmed regarding the crash of the fourth hijacked plane, United 93 in that field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We learned that passengers on board that flight bravely banded together to prevent the hijackers from following through with their deadly intent, and forced the plane to crash in a reclaimed strip mine.
Then, we began hearing an awful narrative about flight lessons and box cutters. About murdered flight crews and fake bombs. Of expired visas and massive miscommunications. Of selflessness and heroism; of split second decisions to go up or down; to turn right or left. Of sad, final goodbyes left on voice mail and last ‘I love yous’ uttered over an air phone.
Bin Laden had made good on his promise that when it came to his enemies, he would make no distinction between those in uniform and civilians or their nationalities. In all, just under three-thousand people died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. That included an untold number of pregnant woman and eight children who were on the planes that hit the buildings. All were under the age of 12.
More than 90 countries lost citizens in the attacks on the World Trade Center
It should also be mentioned that one dog was killed in the collapse. Sirius was a 95-pound Yellow Lab that worked with the Port Authority Police Department as a bomb sniffing canine. In the flurry to help evacuees out of the buildings, his partner, Sgt. David Lim placed in him in his kennel in the Bomb Detail’s office in the basement of the South Tower. Lim promised he’d come back for Sirius.
And he did…
On January 22, 2002 when Sirius’ remains were found, still in his kennel. Recovery workers treated the four-year-old police dog as they would any hero of 9/11. His body was escorted out of the rubble in a flag covered stretcher.
THE RESCUE AND RECOVERY
After the towers collapsed, two 110-story buildings, were reduced to one large heap, four to five stories tall. That was it. That was all that was left of two soaring skyscrapers. Rescuers working there referred to it as “The Pile” . Their task initially was to find survivors, but it didn’t take long for them to realize that their mission would soon shift into recovery mode. Only 23 people survived the collapse of both towers. Genelle Guzman-McMillan was one of those lucky ones. The Port Authority employee who worked on the 64th floor of the North Tower, was the last person removed from the rubble. Her liberation from debris pile came on September 12th, 27 hours after the tower’s initial collapse.
In the weeks and months after the attack, workers were able to find 293 intact bodies in the debris. Only twelve could be identified by sight; the rest were body parts and in some cases, mere pieces of parts. Their job was also hampered by misidentification. Keep in mind that both towers were home to several restaurants and cafes with chicken, beef and pork items on their menus. That made bones deceiving. During the process of sifting and sorting through debris, workers had to discern the difference between a human rib….and a beef rib.
The first responders who volunteered to work “The Pile” had not only an arduous job to do, but they often did it under extremely traumatic circumstances. They had to contend with the repugnant smell of burned and decaying flesh, along with finding bodies that had been buried underneath tons of rubble and pinned down by broken steel beams above what amounted to a fiery pit, some 80 to 90 feet deep in places. If you remember, fires in the rubble continued to burn for some time after the collapse. If workers tried moving the beams, a significant shifting in position could mean dislodging the victim and losing it to the fires below. The goal was to offer families the remains of their loved ones. So they only had one other option: with the families’ consent, they cut up the bodies as needed, in order to free them. They had the morbid task of removing an arm here; a leg there…even severing a torso when they had to and because of awkward positions and limited space, the workers sometimes actually had to lay on top of the bodies in order to carry out this very grim responsibility.
Since being a New York cop or firefighter is such a multi-generational tradition in many families, it was commonplace for fathers to find the bodies of their sons; for brother to find brother…nephew to find uncle. The heartache at “The Pile” seemed unceasing in the weeks and months following the attack.
These men saw incredible carnage and had the emotional wind knocked out of them time and time again, but even so, it got to the point where workers, even the most hardened ones, were able to revel when they found even the tiniest human fragment. At Ground Zero, workers learned to celebrate the smallest of victories. They knew that meant one more family would finally get some much-needed closure.
In the end, most families were given nothing more than a container of tiny bone fragments to bury. And they were happy to have that. They knew they were lucky. All some relatives received was the packaging where their loved one’s remains had been stored.
That’s because when fragments were found and collected, they were taken to the Medical Examiners officer. There, they were examined, cleaned, and pulverized into powder to extract tell-tale genetic traces, a process that can take up to a week before an identification is made. When that happens, the remains are returned to the family. But there were times when nothing survived the DNA testing.
Of 21-thousand remains that have been recovered, nearly nine thousand remain unidentified, because of the degraded condition they were found in. More than 11-hundred victims have no identifiable remains at all. This means that for all intents and purposes, these people had been vaporized.
The discovery of body parts in and around Ground Zero continued for years. In early 2006, more human remains turned up on top of the 43-story skyscraper that was the Deutsche Bank Building, which stood about 400 feet to the south of where the South Tower stood. It had severely damaged by the collapse and was soon rendered structurally unsafe. According to the Associated Press, more than 300 human bone fragments were recovered from the roof as workers removed toxic debris as they prepped for a floor-by-floor dismantling of the building. Most of the fragments were less than 1/16th inch in length and were found in gravel raked to the sides of the roof of the building.
In October of that year, workers with Consolidated Edison (NYC’s main utility company) found human remains in two manholes near the World Trade Center.
In April, 2008, the remains for four more victims were identified using remains recovered from a road, paved to clean up Ground Zero and two years later, 72 human remains were found, following a two month-long sifting through debris from Ground Zero and underneath adjacent roads. Some of the remains were found when new debris was uncovered during construction work at the new WTC complex.
As far as the terrorists’ remains were concerned, only four of the ten hijackers involved in the WTC attack were identified through DNA provided by the FBI. Out of respect, their remains were kept separate from their victims. They weren’t sent back to their families either, despite repeated requests. From a PR standpoint, authorities dealt with the remains as they did with the body of Osama bin Laden. They refused to say what they did to them or where they were taken for fear their final resting place could become a shrine.
If there’s any good news concerning 9/11, it’s that there were many survivors and that was due mostly to when the attack occurred. It’s now estimated that there were just 14,000 people in the two towers at that time of day, far fewer than the 50-thousand plus that would have been there mid-morning. Had the attack and subsequent evacuations happened two hours later, it would have been a much different story.
Survivors might have walked out of the towers unscathed physically, but the mental/emotional wounds went deep.
One study asserted that 17- percent of the entire population of the country, outside New York, reported Post Traumatic Stress symptoms such as nightmares, sleeplessness, and anxiety in the days after the attack and collapse. The study went on to say that if the exposure was intense, the greater the effect of PTS. So for every non–New Yorker who suffered, almost three New Yorkers reported symptoms. And the closer that New Yorker was to the Trade Center, the more he or she felt it. It’s said that the difference could be measured from city block to city block.
Another casualty from that day was and still is, public opinion. A new survey from The Public Religion Institute and the Brookings Institution states that ten years after 9/11, US citizens are still wrestling with their opinions of Muslim. Nearly half of Americans polled admitted they’d be uncomfortable in the presence of a woman wearing a burqa, a mosque being built-in their neighborhood or seeing Muslim men praying at an airport. Forty-one percent said they’d be uncomfortable if a teacher at a school in their community were Muslim. Forty-seven percent of survey respondents said the values of Islam are in direct conflict with American values.
Is any of this surprising? Think back to ten years ago: as the both towers lay in heaps, as a badly damaged Pentagon and a huge gash in a field in Pennsylvania smoldered, it was easy to become suspicious of every Abrahamic religion and those who practiced it. The enemy was instantly recognizable: it was anyone wearing a thobe or hibaya. September 11th forced a change in the American paradigm regarding Islam. It almost instantaneously transformed an often ignored religion into one that was reviled by many.
And I will admit that in the days and weeks following 9/11, I was one of those people.
After the second tower fell, my anger reached a boiling point. I wanted to know how, I wanted to know why and I wanted God to give me an answer. I wanted Allah to offer an explanation. I needed someone to explain radical religious fanaticism to me and how it could kill, maim and destroy as a point of honor. I didn’t want Pat Robertson feeding me his narrow cast tripe. I didn’t want Deepak Chopra to give me his interpretation of Sanskrit. I didn’t want a “return to source” quote from Wayne Dyer. I didn’t want a papal explanation or a mullah trying to convince the world that in spite of the death and destruction we were all witnessing, Islam really is a religion of peace. I didn’t want to hear some rabbi quoting the Talmud in an attempt to explain why bad things happen to good people and I sure as hell didn’t want Mit Romney explaining scripture to me as it was told to Joseph Smith by a chatty salamander in 19th century Utah.
Humans can think awfully odd things when we don’t know what to think.
As skewed as this might have been at the time, I wanted to see more contrite behavior from the American Muslim community, even it that meant a few would have to apologize for the whole. While I’m sure that happened, I don’t remember that happening often enough. I needed to hear more Muslims speak out in angry condemnation of the hijackings and the radical thinking that helped orchestrate the attacks. Instead, I seem to remember hearing more anger about Islam being misunderstood and a fear of reprisals. I remember watching repeated news reports from Muslim clerics insisting that it wasn’t Islam that perpetrated 9/11. That may be, but certainly a corrupt facet of it was behind that horrible Tuesday morning and thousands of innocent men, women and children had been murdered as a result.
Right or wrong, all of this made it easy to believe that where Islam was concerned, the apple couldn’t fall far from the ideological tree. This allowed ‘blanket blame’. We’d already been conditioned to think the worst of this religion. For years, our views had been honed by countless news reports of “honor killings” condoned by clerics; the stoning of women turned into a spectator sport at soccer stadiums, when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie, beheadings of perceived infidels, the murders of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, the bombing of the USS Cole, the Marine barracks in Beirut and the senseless slaughter of hundreds at hotels, on busses and at public markets by suicide bombers hell-bent on becoming Paradise-bound martyrs. Frankly, I didn’t understand how some Muslims, regardless of nationality, couldn’t understand this reaction, which (considering what happened that day and in the decades before) was completely endemic to basic human behavior.
For me personally, had I been a practicing Muslim on September 11, 2001, there would have been one less in the world on September 12th. I was that angry. My country had been attacked. So many of my fellow Americans had been killed in the most nightmarish ways and radical Islam or those operating under the guise of it, was the reason why. Right or wrong, fear, anger and the need to hold someone accountable for these grating emotions are a completely natural responses.
But I’m an educated woman. I’ve always known that many Muslims are good and decent people. They’re dutiful American citizens who have very successfully integrated into the culture and the Democratic way of thinking. My rational, logical side grasps this, but there’s also that small part of my psyche that’s still angry and in some ways, still terrified. September 11th is always in the back of my mind while boarding an airplane, when I enter an upper floor of a skyscraper…when I shop in a mall or attend a large sporting event. The memories and emotional wounds are healing, but they’re aggravated each and every anniversary. But it gets better all the time.
A few weeks after the attack, I read something that I still think about from time to time. I remember feeling it could be applied to the post 9/11 healing process and irony of ironies, it’s from the Quran. It’s a quote from the Surat al-Ishirah, a chapter which in English, translates to “solace” or “comfort”. Many Muslims believe it was revealed by God to Muhammad when he may have voiced doubts concerning how this new Islamic religion and its different lifestyle would be received.
God tried to ease Muhammad’s mind by telling him, “With every difficulty, there comes ease.”
TEN YEARS LATER
Life has gone on in the decade since that unthinkable morning. We’ll never forget what happened and we’ll be eternally grateful to the First Responders and the everyday heroes who rose to the occasion to help save lives…and in many cases, sacrificed their own…on September 11th. There’s still pain of course and the scars will always be visible, but we’re slowly but sure rising out of the ashes, like some mighty Phoenix. There is reconciliation. There is healing. There is renewal. And no where is that more evident than at the place where the towers once stood.
A new World Trade Center complex is being rebuilt and will eventually include a total of five skyscrapers with one specific tower as its focal point. It will be everything that two towers and the surrounding structures were, but more. It will be a testament to American resolve and resilience.
Once completed, the tower will soar 1,776 feet (an homage to the year this country signed its Declaration of Independence) into the skies above New York, some 400 feet taller than the original structures. When finished, it’ll encompass 2.6 million square feet. As it stands now, an expansive public lobby is topped by a series of mechanical floors, comprising the base level. Above this, will be sixty-nine office floors, including two television broadcast floors, mechanical floors, and two restaurants. Atop this, there will be an observation deck and a glass and metal parapet, a wall-like barrier at the edge of a roof or terrace. At the very top will be a communications platform and a 408-foot, cable-stayed antenna.
Fittingly I suppose, it will eventually be the tallest building in the US.
The new tower was built with security in mind. It has extra-wide ventilated staircases that will be pressurized to help keep smoke out. It will also includes a separate staircase for firefighters. Its enhanced sprinkler system will be protected by thick concrete and the elevators, standpipes (to which hoses are attached for firefighting purposes) and stairwells will be protected within a three-feet thick core interior wall inside the perimeter of the building. The base of the tower is reinforced and complete windowless and fortified to withstand even the strongest truck or car bomb. Visitors will face intense airport-type screening and 400 closed circuit cameras will monitor each building.
Every vehicle will be screened as well. There will be radiation detectors, biochemical filters and license plate readers located in all parking garages and eventually, at entrances to the 16 bridges and four tunnels leading in and out of Manhattan. Live feeds will be monitored around the clock by the NYPD, and a computer system will use “video analytic” computer software designed to detect potential threats like unattended bags and retrieve images based on descriptions of terror or other criminal suspects. New York City and Port Authority police will patrol the site. And all of these security features will be repeated in the construction of the four other towers.
A national 9/11 museum is now open, as are the memorial fountains, which were built inside the ‘footprints’ where the two towers once stood. Two 30-foot deep fountains called “Reflecting Absence” are powered by a very sophisticated water-control system which will pump more than one million gallons through a vast network of pipes. The names of the nearly three thousand victims, including those who died in the WTC attack in 1993, have been inscribed in bronze and placed along a walk way surrounding both pools. The surrounding plaza is filled with oak trees and a callery pear known as the Survivor Tree, which was nursed back to health after surviving the 9/11 attacks. That opened last September
The entrance to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, a large pavilion with a glass atrium, houses two enormous tridents within its glass atrium. The tridents are artifacts from the steel façade of the original 1 WTC, also known as the North Tower. The museum opens September 12, 2012. That’s this Wednesday. The tower complex is slated for a 2013 completion date while the entire complex should be open and fully operational by 2018.
And in many ways, that would be appropriate. This small section of lower Manhattan should be remembered this way. It’ll forever serve as a reminder of the immense human toll that was paid in the name of hate on September 11, 2001. Thousands of innocent people were killed here and that makes this location a very sacred place and one of utmost reverence.
So, build what you must on top of this space and call it what you will; it won’t matter. When it comes to these 16 acres in the heart of New York City, hallowed will always be thy name.