Two commercial airline jets slam in World Trade Center
September 11, 2001
'We can't believe it'
From Findlay Courier Sept, 13, 2001
NEW YORK -- Their words are dramatic, capturing much of the nightmarish reality that slammed into their town and cast a cloud over a nation.
Former Findlay residents who now are New Yorkers describe the stench of burnt steel, asbestos and human flesh in the air. They tell of disbelief, fear and grief.
But it's in their voices -- sounding passion, yet a disconnection from something so awful -- that one senses the horror in New York.
"You see things happen in other countries, but we seem invincible," Findlay native Gavin Creel said. "We can't believe it."
When the first plane hit the World Trade Center on Tuesday morning, Creel and his neighbors hurried onto the roof of their apartment building 20 blocks from the catastrophe.
What appeared to be confetti fell slowly from the north tower.
"We didn't know if it was glass or paper or people," he recalls.
Creel snapped one photo and no more.
"It seemed morbid," he said of taking pictures.
At the time, Creel assumed the tragedy was an accident. Then he saw another plane approaching from the back of the south tower.
"I saw the whole thing. I couldn't believe it," he said. "I thought it would circle around. I saw it come around the right side ... I thought, 'No way.'"
The commercial airliner disappeared from Creel's view behind the south tower. Then the front of the building exploded into a huge flame ball. The sound came next.
"It made this huge pop," he recalls.
Findlay native Bill Donnell, also a New Yorker, said an acquaintance of his ducked into a building near the World Trade Center to avoid being showered by debris Tuesday, and could hear bodies plopping to the pavement by the dozens.
From his 26th floor apartment five miles away from the World Trade Center, Donnell saw the hurried, noisy city stop and become quiet Tuesday morning. Cars stopped on the streets, and people left them there, walking by the thousands northward away from the terrorist strike. Clouds of smoke billowed into what incongruently was a beautiful sky, he said.
"This was a beautiful day. Manhattan looked pristine," he recalls. "It all looked perfect if you didn't know what was going on ... With the lack of traffic, you would almost think this was a serene place to be. It was surreal."
Then at some point, fighter planes screamed overhead.
"You wanted to duck until you realized it was ours," he said. "There was a sense of 'What's going to happen next?'"
That fear continues. People have been afraid to go home or go to work.
"We had no idea what would happen next," Findlay native Rich Stein said. "We still don't know what will happen next."
Stein was among those who headed as far away as he could on foot Tuesday. He was at work, 13 miles away, when the terrorist strikes occurred.
"Everyone got panicky in the office," he recalls.
He and his co-workers were given permission to leave, and Stein did just that. He joined a co-worker who walked to her family's home in Queens.
When Stein returned home Wednesday, three miles from the tragedy, he noticed a terrible smell.
Donnell also has been downwind from the disaster site.
"It was like smelling a crematorium," he said.
Since Tuesday, Donnell has watched as caravans of freezer trucks drive by his apartment, heading toward ground zero.
"I think the emotional impact is going to get worse before it gets better," he said.
At first, most people only saw the buildings fall. "Now it's the realization it's thousands of human beings" who have lost their lives, he said.
Already the emotional damage is showing.
"I've been sad ... I wake up in the middle of the night (saying) 'Oh, I dreamt this. No, I didn't dream this,'" he said. "You just sort of walk around on the verge of tears."
Normally fast-walking New Yorkers usually can tell an out-of-towner because he strolls.
But "in the last two days, everybody strolls ... People are damaged," Donnell said. "They've just slowed down."
"I think people gradually are grief stricken," he added.
But through it all, Stein said, what stands out most is the support New Yorkers are getting from each other and from the country.
People have lined up for blocks to donate blood. There have been so many volunteers, some had to be turned away.
A laundry cleaning service Stein never noticed before has a sign offering free service for the city's "brave firefighters and policemen."
"All I've seen is outpourings of taking care of each other," Donnell agreed.
And residents of the city now "have an uncharacteristic desire to make contact," Donnell added. They even shake hands with casual acquaintances.
"The eye contact is palpable. You don't have to say anything," Donnell said. "You just look."
Information courtesy of William Cline