Outside the copy center, ambulances, unmarked FBI cars, and big black vans go screaming by every few minutes, headed for the docks, where more ferries are unloading more evacuees, the injured, and the dead. Despite the number of people squeezed into the copy shop, the place is eerily quiet. People are in shock.
Nine hours ago, I was in Manhattan, standing at the bottom of the World Trade Center. I'd flown into JFK late Monday night, and took the A Train from the airport to the World Trade Center, where my friend Elaine and I had arranged to meet at the Krispy Kreme donut shop at the base of the North Tower. The next morning, shortly before I woke up in Elaine's apartment across the Hudson in Hoboken, the Krispy Kreme where we met the night before was being evacuated. A passenger plane had just slammed into the North Tower, and at this point people assumed it was some sort of tragic accident.
Elaine was on her way to work in Manhattan when she heard someone screaming about a bombing. Elaine rushed back inside and told me to wake up. We rushed to Elaine's balcony, where we saw the tower on fire. By now a second passenger jet had crashed into the World Trade Center's South Tower, and it was clear that this wasn't an accident. Both of the 110-story buildings were on fire, and we could see that the upper stories were disintegrating rapidly.
I threw on my clothes and glanced out the window. I could clearly see the World Trade Center. Thick gray and black smoke billowed out of both buildings. We ran outside, joining 300 or so other people who were headed to Hoboken's riverfront pier, about two blocks from Elaine's apartment. As we ran down the street, a noisy construction site fell absolutely silent as the workers stopped what they were doing to join us at the pier.
When we got to the pier, with its stunning views of Manhattan, I could not believe what I saw. Windows were being blown out from fire burning inside the World Trade Center. We could see people inside the buildings. The crowd stood and watched in silence as the buildings burned. Here and there a few people murmured and sobbed quietly into their cell phones. Other people gathered around portable radios to hear the news. Then the unthinkable happened: The top of the South Tower suddenly leaned hard right, collapsed in on itself, and fell all the way down to the ground. The whole fucking thing came down, and smoke, dust, and debris quickly enveloped lower Manhattan. People began to scream and moan, clutching strangers for support. Next to me, Elaine started crying. Dogs were freaking out and barking. Everyone's cell phones started blanking out.
A shirtless guy on Rollerblades standing near us began shouting, "Let's get those fuckers! Let's get revenge!" Suddenly military jets and helicopters were circling overhead. The jets, which looked like F-16 fighters, were so loud they startled everybody. (We later learned they were told to shoot down anything that came near Manhattan.) Immediately after that, the cops started yelling at us to get off the pier. They were afraid the large crowd gathered on the pier could become a target.
As we quickly walked off the grassy pier, passenger ferries started making the quick trip between Manhattan and Hoboken to bring victims across the river to nearby St. Mary Hospital. Multiple ambulances started showing up at the pier, preparing for the worst. Police soon blocked off the area with yellow tape in order to keep people out.
As we walked back to Elaine's apartment in disbelief, most of the delis, pizza joints, and laundromats on nearby Washington Street had closed up. The cranes at the construction sites were still. We heard more screams, and turned around to look back; we saw nothing but a huge cloud of dark smoke. We later learned that the second tower had collapsed. We had heard on the radio that hospitals needed people to come in and give blood, but we were turned away from St. Mary when we arrived. We were given a piece of paper--a list of other hospitals and Red Cross facilities that were better equipped.
Back at Elaine's, located only a few blocks from the pier, we went out on her back porch and started chain-smoking--and I don't even smoke. Military planes continued to circle in the air space where the twin towers used to stand. Elaine was freaked out about her roommate, a woman who works in a building near the World Trade Center. At the time of this writing, we haven't been able to get ahold of Elaine's roommate.
My trip to New York City got off to a rocky start; but of course, I never imagined anything like this. My flight into JFK International Airport on Monday night--Alaska Airlines Flight 226--was delayed due to a lightning storm. We flew through some lightning coming into New York and, like all nervous airline passengers, I briefly contemplated my own death. I got to contemplate my death again this morning, watching the World Trade Center's twin towers collapse. I was supposed to take the train into work with Elaine this morning, which would've put us inside the World Trade Center at around eight o'clock this morning, 48 minutes before the first plane hit. Thankfully, we decided to sleep in instead.
No one knows how long the city is going to be shut down, so I'm not sure how or when I'll get out of New York. I'm here because my band was supposed to play the CMJ music festival in Manhattan this weekend. The event has been canceled, I imagine. As I write these words, I can hear sirens. The sound of the sirens doesn't rise and fall like sirens usually do as they pass by. The sound is constant.