A Voluntary Witness
...It has been suggested that I write in more detail
about the specifics of my time at Ground Zero (the center of the tragedy).
It was also suggested that I do this soon, while the memories of the
events are still fresh in my mind. So here goes.
graphic by d. browell
| There were cranes and dump
trucks and plows, backhoes, and front-end loaders everywhere removing
debris. Fire trucks were still extinguishing fires in different parts
of different buildings. I sure wish that I brought one of those little
disposable cameras with me, but I just didnt think of it. Anyway,
Most of us grabbed shovels and began to clear debris off the streets so
that rescue vehicles could get through. The main triage center (thats
for emergency on-the-spot medical attention) was set up under the roof
of the canopy of the building directly across the street.
I needed to help move all the medical stuff out from under the building because the emergency coordinators said that the building itself, was unstable. So we began to carry boxes of medical supplies down the sidewalk. I helped to set up I.V. drips and mobile cots. We needed to go inside this building to retrieve any kind of tables or chairs that we could use. This building basically had most of the ground level front windows blown out and so when we went inside, everything had soot all over it. There were valuable statues and vases and other fancy things in the lobby of this building. We just threw all of this stuff down on the floor so we could get the tables they were on.
| They let us use the restroom
in this building but we had to go up to the third floor to get there.
They had some kind of breakfast buffet set up in the main dining room
on the third floor facing the World Trade Center. All these fancy tables
were all set up and this whole buffet was still out but everything was
covered with this soot. I picked up a bagel off one of the trays and shook
it and all this gray soot just fell off. I just stared at it for what
seemed like a long time. It didnt seem real.
Back out on the street they needed us to start lifting out some of the reasonably sized debris form the foundation area. The smell in the air was pungent. It smelled like a bar-b-cue gone terribly wrong. There was this most foul stench coming from some of the piles of debris we were clearing. We were told that we might come across pieces of fingers or other small body parts. I tried not to examine too closely things that I was lifting and shoveling. As we worked we saw that the search and rescue and firefighters began to bring out bodies and parts of bodies on these orange stretchers.
Now let me just say, once again, that I have never even seen a dead body in my life aside from a couple of funerals that Ive been to. It was just sick to see; these poor lifeless corpses. Oh, I Dont even want to think about it. This one guy they pulled out had, what I thought was a massive head wound, but then as they got closer I could see that the body had no head on it at all. As a matter of fact most of the upper shoulder area was gone too. I thought I was gonna vomit.
A little later they brought out this woman. O.K. Im at a loss for words here. Nothing from the waist down. I mean nothing. Just all these dirty, soot-covered guts hanging out of her torso. Her face, oh her face. Half burnt, you could see part of her skull. The other half was just bloody and black. Im sorry to be so descriptive here but I just wanted to get all these thoughts down on paper while they were still fresh on my mind. Just try to bear with me.
They also pulled out this cop and a little later a fire fighter. They were in pretty bad shape too. They did, however pull out this one guy who was still alive while I was there. A couple of us ran out onto the road to clear the trucks out of the way so the paramedics would have a clear path to the triage unit and ambulances. I helped carry the stretcher from the site over to the ambulance and held the oxygen tank they had for this guy. He was Spanish and was shaking real bad. He seemed to be responding to the doctors voice but he didnt talk. Later the paramedics said that he mightve been having a seizure at the time. He got rushed off to the nearest hospital.
Around 11:30 that night the Mayor (Mayor Rudolph Gulianni) came around to check out the situation with his crew. He walked up to me and the medics and some of the rescuers and thanked us for our help and shook all of our hands. Hes a great guy and a great Mayor. Well, the dead bodies kept coming, I think about eight or nine while I was there. They brought in more dogs for locating bodies and we finally got the whole front street clear and free of all debris. There were people handing out bottles of water and Gatorade and giving us sandwiches and cookies. A lot of the city personnel had cameras and they were snapping hundreds of photos all night.
I was getting exhausted, but I didnt really want to leave. I felt so helpful and the next volunteer crew wasnt coming in until the next morning. I didnt know if Id be able to come back and help later. I finally decided to call it quits around 3:30 am. I was beat and filthy. I jumped in the shower as soon as I got home. Im sure my hair had asbestos and God knows what else in it. Its a good thing we had our respirators on. The army guys came around and told us that it was mandatory to wear them. They said the air had a dangerous level of soot for breathing. Gosh, what else. I know Im leaving something out here. Oh, well. I suppose this is good enough for now. Be sure to pass this exciting story on to your local newspaper and have it published. Ha! Ha! Just kidding. Im sure there will be hundreds of stories better than mine coming out in the next few weeks.
I have to say that this whole experience totally changed me. Ive never seen death and destruction on a level like this before. As a matter of fact, Ive never seen death and destruction on any level. Those dead people were the eeriest. I see them when I close my eyes sometimes. I feel so bad for the families. There are deeper levels of debris that they havent touched yet. When they do get to these deeper levels Im afraid that the body count will rise substantially. I imagine there are still hundreds, maybe thousands of bodies still remaining under all that rubble. I dont think anyones chances of survival will remain after another day or two.
I may try to go back down there this weekend if I have the opportunity. I really dont know if Ill be as lucky to get on one of those busses. Im sure there wont be a need for rescuers much longer. Just people to help remove all the debris and countless bodies still unearthed. God, this is really hard to write about. I see vivid pictures in my head as I type. I hate so much that this even happened. I know that Im studying to become a priest but my heart is so full of rage. I want retaliation and revenge. I want all terrorists groups to pay and to die. I am scared of a third world war though. I just dont know whats going to happen. Hopefully our President and his advisors will make a sound decision on how to handle this. Please pray and donate blood, money, clothes, food, anything. These people are gonna need our help. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Im gonna go say my prayers now and try to sleep until tomorrow. God Bless America!!!
September 13, 2001
all images copyright 2001 skewed
all words copyright the author designated
as always, as it has been since Sept. 12, 2000: for Alec.