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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, September 14, 2001

Connected by a telephone line Connected by a telephone line (September 14, 2001)

Residents anxiously await word from friends, relatives in New York

by Carol Blitzer

A friend called at 7:18 a.m. to alert me to the New York disaster. (Ironically, she has a daughter living in Israel who has strict orders to call her mom after every terrorist attack -- no matter where in Israel the attack may have occurred.)

I tried calling both my daughters, but all circuits were busy. Hannah, who works for the Robin Hood Foundation on Wall Street, called a few minutes later. She had just arrived at her office -- which is two blocks from the World Trade Center -- at about 8:55 a.m., just after the plane struck the first tower. Coming out of the subway, she wondered why paper and debris were falling from the sky, almost like on New Year's Day when everyone tosses out last year's calendar. Once in her office, everyone gathered together in a conference room where those nearest the window witnessed the second tower explode. They then evacuated the building.

She got as far as 14th Street, where a friend worked, when she managed to get through to me on her friend's cell phone. She hadn't been able to contact her sister in Brooklyn, who works in mid-town. She had a long walk ahead of her, since she lives on 108th Street and the subways were closed. (She got home seven hours later, after walking about 120 blocks, stopping to visit along the way.)

A few minutes later, Mara called. She felt sick when she first woke up and decided to go in to work late. About 10 a.m. she flipped on the radio and thought the announcement was a sick joke, some shock-radio schlock. She turned to the news station for confirmation and went into a state of shock. She could see the smoke from her window in Brooklyn (sort of like seeing UC Berkeley in flames from here). Since phones and the subway were down, she wasn't planning to go anywhere.

On Wednesday, Mara sent me the following e-mail:

"Today I went to work, arriving at 8:50 a.m. to a near ghost town around 28th Street. I found myself choking back the beginnings of a sob on the subway train -- many people were wearing scrubs, almost all of us wearing looks expressing shock and grief. After all of that sitting and waiting and watching TV the day before, I needed to be somewhere.

"In the early afternoon, I went with my boss and three other coworkers to volunteer at the Red Cross headquarters on 66th Street, where . . . we were rapidly processed and sent back to the east side, to a high school at 33rd and Lexington, now serving as a 24-hour shelter. For six hours we mostly answered questions about how to give blood, how to volunteer, what to donate. About 10 people were intaked to spend the night, including some international travelers to places like Nigeria and Lithuania that were stranded, and a few displaced people whose homes are in the downtown evacuated area. This was notably a light load compared to the shelter.

"One man and two of his friends arrived, distraught, about 8:30 p.m. He was looking for his fianc»e, who had worked at 1 WTC on the 99th floor. He was upset, and frustrated because information about missing persons is difficult to reach. We were only able to give him two forms to fill out, one to fax to the Red Cross HQ and the other to take with him to a support center the city has now set up to handle missing persons reports.

"According to a coworker who walked over to the site, the scene was horrible. As I learned when I got home and turned on the TV, the letter-sized poster with a picture, name, and work address of the missing man's fianc»e was one of so many that people have made to help to identify loved ones.

"What struck me and many of the volunteers is how unconnected the Red Cross seemed to be with outside information. After we arrived and realized that we had heard of more information than was available to hand out, we went back to 28th Street to prepare handouts with increased information.

"What also struck us was the fact that the shelter was empty because, in part, there are so many dead. The mayor just ordered 6,000 body bags.

"I am glad to be here. New York grieves today, including me."

I talked to a friend, Judith Wasow, whose two daughters Molly and Nina also work in New York. Both called at 9:30 a.m. EST Tuesday to say they're fine.

Molly saw the plane crash into the second tower -- I believe through her office window, but I'm not sure. Stories are as shaky as parents are. Later I heard from their dad Tom that Nina called Molly just after the first crash to say her building was being evacuated. Molly suggested that Nina come to her office if need be, but before she arrived the first tower collapsed and Molly's building was evacuated. She was then forced to leave the area and had no way to get in touch with Nina. They ended up walking -- separately -- over the Brooklyn Bridge and met up again at Nina's apartment in Brooklyn.

In a later e-mail, Molly wrote, "We were out of touch for about two hours, and I was absolutely terrified. The terror that came from not knowing was the worst part of the whole horrible morning."

The worst story I've heard so far was from Palo Altan Dick Alexander, whose son Marshall is in San Francisco comforting his good friend Sean, whose wife of one year was in New York to attend a meeting that started at 8:30 a.m. on the 100th floor of the World Trade Center.

No one has heard from her. Sean is trying to get to New York to look for his wife, who is presumed dead.

Carol Blitzer is an associate editor for the Weekly.


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