Today, as 9/11 and its nearly three thousand victims are remembered, lower Manhattan has changed but much also remains the same. Where the twin towers used to stand is still a huge construction site and will continue to be for years. But the view out over the water with the Statue of Liberty in the distance is as stunning as always. The marina over in Battery Park City is full of sailing boats, kids are playing, and people are enjoying the sun set. The dark and narrow streets around Wall Street are full of people as lower Manhattan today has many new residents.
That morning, ten years ago, our world at 80 John Street, where we then lived three blocks from what would become known as Ground Zero, came crashing down.
The morning had begun so brilliantly beautiful as my wife, our daughter and I were preparing us for an ordinary day in New York. Suddenly there was a big explosion, much larger than the usual noise on lower Manhattan. I rushed down and out on the street where people had gathered and stood and looked up at the sky up to the north twin tower that stood in the fire. A plane had run straight into the North Tower. How could it happen?
Chaos, confusion. Then another big explosion when the south tower was hit. This was no accident. Then, the unthinkable – the gigantic south tower simply fell, like a deck of cards, straight from the top down in a roar. A huge, dark mass of debris and smoke and dust rushed towards me like a dark wall on our narrow street. It got pitch-black . Coughing and shocked people filled our foyer. We couldn’t see and we could hardly breathe.
It did brighten somewhat before the north tower – again in an incredibly, almost simple way. We were swept back into the dust and smoke and complete darkness. Out on the street more and more people appeared. They came out of the smoke and dust and darkness from Ground Zero as from another world. Employees from the shops and residents provided protective masks and water bottles. Many had no idea where they were and how they could get away. Go north, north, we said and pointed.
By now, we had no electricity, no telephone. We started to pack the essentials and headed out on the street, covered with many inches dust and debris, away from Ground Zero and walked north. Soon we were out in the sun and the clear blue sky, but behind us, where the twin towers once stood, there was now emptiness.
It took over a week before we could return home. Life on John Street in lower Manhattan had changed. Several months after September 11, we walked around nervously, watching intently aircraft that flew over the town a little too low, flinching with any loud noise. A foul odor from the smoldering hole at Ground Zero followed us constantly.
In June, we moved up to the West Side of Manhattan, near the greenery of Central Park. It was no easy decision, but we needed to get away from the daily reminders of Ground Zero and a neighborhood that was going to be a gigantic construction site for years to come.
It’s been said that after 9/11, life will never be the same again. For us, that is certainly true.