New York (WABC)—— Twenty-two years after the deadliest terrorist attack in American history, people are still dying.
On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists hijacked four planes and crashed two of them into the World Trade Center Twin Towers, killing more than 2,700 people in lower Manhattan.
Among the victims were 343 members of the New York Fire Department.
Many fire department members continue to die from 9/11-related illnesses. They spent a lot of time searching the “tower piles” (ruins of tower blocks) for possible survivors, then looking for body parts and any evidence to identify the victims.
Last week, the FDNY once again added a flag for each now-retired member who died from the 9/11 disease 22 years later: 43 people died last year.
Each person’s name is placed in a memorial garden in Brooklyn. Everyone got an American flag – there are now 331 in the garden.
A year from now, the number of FDNY members who died after 9/11 may exceed the number who died during 9/11.
As FDNY Chief Lauren Kavanagh said: “Our members are still dying.”
We talk about never forgetting this horrific event. There are still many people dying from these 9/11 illnesses, which makes it even more important that we always remember this.
In the meantime, every year during these annual commemorations, I tell the story of where I was when the planes hit the World Trade Center. So for those of you listening, please forgive me and indulge me. We all have our stories.
That Tuesday morning in 2001, I was getting ready to go to the gym. It was a bright, crystal clear blue sky; the sky was as blue as crystal. My kids’ first week of school. Morale is high.
At 6 pm, our producer Zahir Sachedina called me at home. “Are you watching what’s going on?”
“No, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“It looked like a plane hit the World Trade Center,” he said. “Maybe a small plane. We want you to come in here and host this special report.”
I jumped in the shower and turned the TV up to full volume so I could hear what was going on. It was obviously unclear what was going on.
Then another plane hit.
I remember the guy who was parked at the time – a guy who no longer works here – said that there must be something wrong with the FAA’s radar system when the two planes hit the Twin Towers.
I remember throwing the soap on the shower wall. hard. I remember yelling. loudly. It started with some obscene stuff. Then, “We’re under attack!” Then something lewd happened.
When the second tower collapsed, I jumped out of the shower and rushed to work, at the anchor desk. Sandra Bookman and I spent several hours on the air. Jim Dolan was also there, monitoring the numerous announcements, including one that said a United Airlines flight had disappeared from radar somewhere over the Pennsylvania countryside.
How could it not be connected to the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and the one we found that crashed into the Pentagon?
Of course, it makes sense that they are connected, but we can’t confirm a connection to the Pennsylvania crash. not yet.
The images, emotions and tears from that first day just kept coming. Not an out-of-focus stream – because I remember most of it very clearly. But it’s a river that’s all connected so that it runs together. In fact, all of these horrific events that day were part of a larger chain of events. Like each frame of a film reel, they blend together to form a complete moving image.
The image of those dust clouds erupting as each building collapsed, so final and devastating. People were jumping from buildings to certain death, and the heat was too high to bear. The final phone calls, some of them made to us over the radio, were from people who might have known they were going to die.
The thoughts of all those people who had family members in the buildings, watching them burn and fall, with the horror of it all shown on television.
It was hard not to cry then. It’s hard not to cry now.
I know the emotions 22 years later are rising to the surface. It doesn’t take much to mention them; just writing the words down is enough.
Everything feels so wrong, so grossly misguided and terrible. No matter what gripes and gripes the groups doing this have about America, no matter what valid criticisms they have of this country – nothing can justify the human carnage they have caused and the sorrow that has followed.
Grief affects us too. Eyewitness News team member Don DiFranco was on top of one of the towers when it was attacked. Don was an engineer – and after the plane crashed into the building 20 stories below him, his first thought was to call us and tell us we might not be able to air because of the crash. That’s what he’s worried about. I just hope Don doesn’t suffer.
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There are two other images that stuck with me, involving our employees. The first was Nina Pineda and Lauren Glassberg, huddled together and hugging each other in the back of the car, dust swirling around them. Fear is etched on their faces and on my memory.
The other is “Stand Up” recorded by NJ Burkett. A burning tower is on his shoulders as he looks into the camera and talks about what happened at that moment in lower Manhattan. His photographer suggested he take another shot—and another shot. And he did… As he spoke, the ground rumbled, and over his shoulders, the first tower collapsed. NJ glanced back, then started running like everyone else around him.
New Jersey has not participated in our annual commemoration coverage of the 9/11 attacks for many years. The pain, the memories, the scars – everything is so new.
But, in the case of New Jersey, we know that for many people, anger and sadness remain a part of their lives.
RELATED | How reporter N.J. Burkett and his cameraman escaped the Twin Towers collapse
It’s easy to talk about closure – but I simply don’t believe there is such a thing. The wounds may scar, but for the wife who lost her husband, the parents whose child was killed, the child whose mother died that day, nothing is over.
We also try to avoid saying people were “lost” that day. The key is lost. The good pen is lost. The watch is lost. Report card missing.
But those who died that day are not lost. They were killed. I think saying “lost” is sugarcoating reality. What happened was cruel, and we should acknowledge that cruelty. They were killed. They died. They are not lost. We know what happened to them.
As we have done every September 11th since the attacks, we will remember it again this year.
I covered the attacks and disasters that followed. I hosted annual commemorations there. I’ll be celebrating my 22nd anniversary there.
It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to participate.
For those of you watching our coverage of the Ground Zero ceremony, please know that we feel the same way you do. For all of us, a moment of reflection helps remember those who woke up that day, kissed their families goodbye, went to work and never came back.
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