Archive: September, 2010

9/11: Phil’s Story

Phil Morelli, a laborer, was inside Tower On, beginning his normal workday, when the first plane hit.  After barely escaping with his life, he would return to Ground Zero to work for many months on the recovery and deconstruction efforts. 

The building I was in was Tower One and as I walk by 50A into the Secret Service parking lot, that’s when the big impact of whatever hit. I didn’t know what was going on and the big impact threw me up against a wall in the corridor.

You don’t know what the hell happened and now you’re just trying to get up and walk. I come running out into the B4 parking lot and everybody is screaming and yelling, then all of a sudden you hear this big thing come down the [elevator] shaft … and all of a sudden this big heat just came blowing through the B4 and you’re hearing everybody burned, screaming, broken legs, you know. If you’re on the ground and you’re running, you’re running across a parking lot, you’re going in between cars and there’s fire everywhere, there’s gasoline leaking all over the floor. You just think you’re gonna die.

Then I go towards Building Two and it happens all over again. I know the way to get up into Building Two and get right out into the street. Yeah, beautiful, but I’m hearing now that’s why I couldn’t get out because the main [elevator] car crashed and destroyed all the entrances and everything down there. So now I can’t get out. Now I’m running up the ramps and everything I’m seeing was terrible and it was just people screaming all over the place and as I’m running up the ramps, it’s not a complete circle. Of course, it would be beautiful if it was made like a Macy’s parking garage, but when you go up one ramp you gotta run clear to the other side to go up another one and then come out again. (More)

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9/11: Bobby’s Story

I was working as a tower crane operator about 50 stories in the air on Forty-third at Eighth and actually saw the first plane hit.  I know my perception was off a bit, but it actually looked like it was going to hit the tip of the boom [of his crane].  My first reaction was: “Why is this guy so low?”  Then, before I could even get that out, I was like: “And why is he over Midtown?” I kinda followed it [the plane] down and it tucked behind, I guess it’s the Sheraton building, and I said: “Oh, it’s just going to Newark.”  I couldn’t actually see the impact, but I saw the fireball and I, it was, you know, you were, it just didn’t process.  You couldn’t figure out how this could happen and on a clear day.  It was so crystal clear.  I actually called up my partner and said: “Can you come up?  I need to get down and see what’s going on.” (More)

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9/11: Hugh’s Story

Hugh Smith, a carpenter, was working at the World Trade Center when the planes rammed the twin towers.

I was here on that morning. I was in the loading dock at about 6:30 in the morning and the company I was with was starting a job over in One Liberty. I was going across the street to One Liberty to oversee the men, and I came back out and somebody told me a plane hit the Trade Center. I mean, this beautiful clear day, like today, and I couldn’t believe it. (More)

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September 9, 2010

9/11: Mary Ellen’s Story

Mary Ellen’s true story is part of a weeklong tribute to the heroes of 9/11.  A construction company safety executive, she was working at the World Trade Center when the planes were flown into the towers.

We actually had a job at the site.  We were doing the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Plaza.  I was down there for a final inspection and it was a beautiful day.  I remember that around nine o’clock or so I had gone inside and then all of a sudden I heard these people saying that a plane had hit.  We weren’t really sure what was going on.  I had stepped outside and all these papers were coming down all around us.  We didn’t know.  We couldn’t even fathom where the paper was coming from, and I said: “This is really serious.”  By the time I walked back into the building I had gotten a call from my main office telling me that we were, that something was terribly wrong, and that I needed to evacuate our building.

 As we were trying to get out  the police started running and people started running, saying: “The building’s coming down, the building’s coming down.”  We couldn’t imagine what building, and I’m thinking smaller building, and then they said: “The tower’s coming down.” (More)

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9/11: Rafe’s Story (Part Two)

This is Part Two of “Rafe’s Story,” which in turn is part of this week’s tribute to the heroes of 9/11.


Rafe fished his badge out of his pocket and gripped it in his right hand as he crossed Canal Street, flashing his way through police lines.  As he turned and headed east on Liberty Street, what he saw brought him to a dead stop.  Where Financial One and Financial Two of the World Trade Center once stood was a mountain of rubble, 20 stories high, flames and smoke shooting up through towers of twisted steel.  He broke into a jog and then back into a sprint, but had to slow down because the gray dust in the air was making it difficult to breathe, even though the sun was out and the sky a rich morning blue. Firemen, police officers and construction workers from all over the city were pouring onto the site, and swarming around the perimeter of the pile, some digging into the mountain of rubble with whatever they could find, others already venturing up onto the twisted steel. A skinny guy in a t-shirt, tennis shoes and jeans stood on a girder barking orders, “You guys start digging.  You guys form a bucket brigade.  And you guys with the torches, start burning.  I want that steel in chunks we can lift.  Move it, move it, move it.  There are people in there.” (More)

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September 8, 2010

9/11: Rafe’s Story (Part One)

 Fact and fiction inspired by 9/11 will be posted every day this week.  Rafe’s story began as a piece of short fiction and is now the opening chapter of a novel about selfishness and redemption.

 September 11 wasn’t the first time Rafe Holbrook had slept through his alarm clock with no thought to its consequences.  He’d done it all through high school, two tours of duty in Viet Nam with the 101st Calvary and 20 years with the New York Police Department.  But on this morning, neither Callie Bacon nor Tom Hale had called to wake him up.  That’s because Callie was back on Deer Isle where she’d decided to stay on after high school and marry a cranberry farmer and raise kids.  And Tommy, his longtime pal, sidekick, spear carrier, confessor and crutch lay buried under 100 million tons of steel at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.

“Where’s Tommy,” Rafe asked the desk sergeant, Jake Flaherty, as he pushed through the thick oak doors of the 18th precinct.

“Far as we know, he’s under the pile,” Flaherty said over the top of his reading glasses.  “We can’t find him at any of the hospitals and he hasn’t called in, his radio’s dead.”

Holbrook grabbed the flabby officer by the front of his uniform shirt and dragged him up and over the big grey desk, knocking over a jumbo cup of Sprite and a crowded ashtray on top of the spread-out sports section of the Daily News.

“What the fuck was he doing in there?  He was off-duty this morning.  We were out until 2 a.m. and he was off-fucking duty.  And where the fuck do you get off putting him under the pile?  What pile?”

 “Where’ve you been, fish-farmer?  Eighteen rug-heads slam two jumbo jets into the tallest buildings in the city at 8:45 a.m. and you show up here at 10:30?  Tommy came in to do some work on the Widow’s and Orphan’s Fund and then went down to the Trade Center to meet some broad about a statue.  Now he’s down there with hundreds of other dead firemen and cops who were doing what you were supposed be doing and that’s doing their jobs.” (More)

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September 6, 2010

9/11: Daria’s Story

A different 9/11 story will be posted every day this week.  Please share.

The morning of September 1, 2001, I was in Lower Manhattan.  My colleague Jeffrey Lerner and I had just finished a short walk and were about to join a friend of his for breakfast when the doorman at the Gramercy Park Hotel told us an airplane had accidently flown into one of the World Trade Center Towers.  We were gorging on eggs and has browns when our server brought  the news that a second plane had hit another tower.  We rushed up to my room to watch Aaron Brown deliver the awful truth on CNN.  Jefffrey and his friend, a young cinematographer, headed for what would become known as “Ground Zero” to videotape what they could.  I stayed in my room, fantasizing a nuclear attack while frantically trying to reach my daughter, who lived in the City, and my wife, whose office overlooks the White House.

Thousands of police officers, firefighters, construction workers and medical personnel weren’t so self-absorbed or fearful: they picked up their tools and rushed downtown to help with rescue efforts, many of them losing their lives as a result.  A few months later, the actor (and trade unionist) Richard Masur and I visited Ground Zero and videotaped interviews with a dozen construction workers who were still working 24/7 in the recovery effort.  We used the material gathered to produce a video for the Building Trades Department, AFL-CIO, and I later created some composite characters and fiction work from what I’d learned.  My first piece was inspired by the fire fighters and police officers who go there first.  I told a part of their story through the words of a  of a restaurant worker from “Windows on the World’ who managed to escape before the twin towers collapsed.  I tried to confront the horror as well as my own failings of that day by melding her voice into a short poem: (More)

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