Frontline Initiative Coping with Disaster
Personal Stories From We Watch the City
Chapter 1: September 11, 2001
Steven lives a in supportive apartment on West 23rd Street and works at the Securities Training Corporation at Battery Place. “Tuesday, September 11, 2001 turned out to be a very nice morning. As I got to work about 8:15am, and I was up front in the reception area checking people in. We had classes that morning. And then about 8:46 am or so, we saw on the T.V. that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. And we thought it was an accident. Then about ten minutes later, another plane went in, and we knew that it wasn’t an accident, that it was a terrorist attack.” “So, myself and some of my colleagues went down the stairs and out into the park. There were a lot of people in the park. And then all of a sudden, the first building collapsed, then the second building collapsed, and we were all running for our lives. We didn’t know what was going to come down next. It was like an apocalypse. It became dark and we were all full of soot and we were all black and everything. And we all ran towards the ferry and I was standing with one of my co-workers and then I left him for a minute to get something to drink because it was very hot that morning. The beautiful morning, that turned out to be a disaster. And then I lost my co-worker, and I was like by myself.” “Afterwards, I just kept on running. About twenty minutes later, I ran into one of my other co-workers. We just stood together for about twenty to twenty-five minutes. And then it became, the air became a little clearer. It got a little lighter. So, I ran across the park and then I, with about six or seven of my co-workers, and then we just hugged each other and broke down. And then we all got into the subway doors. We were all in there because it was just so dark and there was debris all over the entire place and then we just stood there for a while.”
From Chapter 2: The Response
“A lot of people were trying to get in touch with me. My family from New Jersey, my family from Florida, my father and my brother and my sister, about fifteen people tried to get in touch with me. But, I was just so shaken up, I was just in shock, I couldn’t call anyone back at that time. I was just in shock.”…
…“I have a lot of friends who helped me through it. It’ll never ever be the same, it will never ever be the same. I’m very scared everyday when I’m down and around Battery Park. But, it’ll never be the same, some nights I still wake up, I have nightmares about it. But, I know that, I feel safe in my apartment, you know. I have a lot of people who are helping me and working with me. You know, of course, I still feel that sacredness, I still feel afraid when I’m down there. Because I witnessed it, I was right down there in the park that morning. It was very devastating, very scary, I thought I was going to die that day. I thought it was going to be the end of my life.”…
…“It was very eerie and very scary. We all talked a little bit, then we all kind of got into our work. Which was the best thing to do. It felt very strange (to be back). It felt very strange to be down there. But, I realized that I have to go on with my life. Unfortunately, it’s very sad. A lot of people lost their lives. Fortunately, I have my life and I have a job to do. I have an apartment to pay for, I have to eat, I have bills to pay, so I had to go back to work.”
From Chapter 2: The Response
Kathy Broderick, Associate Commissioner
“We had a group of ladies and gentlemen [with disabilities] who had this very desperate need to be a part of and to do something, to give back, to do, to whatever. So, a friend of mine, that night, we took his van. It is an 18-passenger vehicle, it’s huge. We took out the seats and between the consumers and the staff and this friend of mine, we hit every store. And wiped them out of everything.. We do a lot with Special Olympics, so I had Special Olympic uniforms, they went in the van. Socks, flashlights, batteries, everything, got put in this van. And Friday morning, a group of us drove it down to [an emergency response] center and as we pulled in. There were National Guard and police with rifles. One of the gentlemen that was with me, jumped up and said, ‘Not to worry! We’re from the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD).’ The cop looks at me and says, ‘Omar who!?’ I said, “Oh my God!’ I tried to explain it, but then I said forget it, forget it. It’s just a group of people that really wanted you to know that we’re thinking of you and this call came out on the radio that you need these supplies. So here it is.”
You know, but that was just one indication of their needs. Groups have been formed now that are volunteering, they established choral groups that sing at nursing homes and day care centers. We have consumers that were part of photography clubs that took pictures. I’m trying to think, I cannot even, getting people across the (Verisano Bridge) when (Staten) Island was on lock down. I mean they were on lock down, nobody could get in, and nobody could get out. People couldn’t leave their house. The trauma that our consumers and our staff were subjected to and they just kept rising and rising.”
(The Journal: Dedicated to OMRDD’s Heroes: Special September 11, 2001 Commemorative Edition 14(1) pp 3-4. Albany, NY: OMRDD).
From Chapter 3: The Day After
“After six months, I still feel scared down there, but I know there is much much more security down there now. There’s a lot of security in my building. We have to show IDs now. So, I don’t feel 100% safe, which I don’t think I ever will. I feel maybe 60% safe.”
From Chapter 4: Lessons Learned and Advice
Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, Thomas A. Maul, OMRDD
“As I traveled around New York City after September 11, I couldn’t help but recall all the times in the past I had talked about our staff, especially our direct care staff, being special people. I have certainly meant it, they are indeed special, and over the years they have given me many reasons to believe it is true. But, until you have experienced the kind of tragedy they have experienced, I don’t think that you realized how really special these people are.”
“I have used the word heroes when referring to these incredible people, and there certainly isn’t a better use of that word. I feel that way because indeed it takes a special person to place the welfare and the needs of others above their own needs and above their own concerns at a time of crisis. That’s what so many staff people did on September 11 — at both state level and at voluntary provider agency programs.”…
…“I think we should always remember the World Trade Center. I say that not in terms of the human devastation and sorrow and the suffering, but I think that we should remember the World Trade Center in terms of the people who raised themselves about levels that we would have ever anticipated. People who are heroes, people who addressed the needs of others, people who showed that caring was the most important of the human commodities. If we remember that lesson, we will indeed have a better Personal Stories From We Watch the City, continued from page 12 world” (The Journal: Dedicated to OMRDD’s Heroes: Special September 11, 2001 Commemorative Edition, 14(1) pp 2,4. Albany, NY: OMRDD).
Excerpts from: We Watch the City, September 11, 2001 and Its Aftermath: Experiences of Persons with Developmental Disabilities, by Mary F. Hayden, K. Charlie Lakin, and Jerry Smith, Rehabilitation and Research Center on Community Living, Institute on Community Integration (UCEDD), College of Education, University of Minnesota, 214 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455.