P at This is part of a series of 9/11 stories from the clean up crew of the aftermath.
Upon inspection, it was evident that the odor of the disaster was strong and heavy. There were issues with the clean up process, as it seemed to be faulty. The National Guard and Police had set up barricades at the center street, and they welcomed assistance from outside. At a certain point, it became apparent that this incident was not an accident. We were allowed entry and reported the incident on the blog. Many vehicles were damaged at the Plaza. I, along with one other crew member, were present at the site where you had mentioned. We observed smoke and heat at a distance, and the site was covered in dust. The facades of buildings and storefronts along the streets were in disarray, with shattered glass and debris scattered around. An officer confirmed the chaotic situation. In the midst of it all, we received a call from Verizon. However, my boss, Chris, was too occupied to respond.
We reported to the location on West Street, where beams had split and created a visible issue. Dan, our team member, was knowledgeable about cable hookups. We were hands-on and received assistance from others, so Chris decided to proceed. We followed him as we ventured towards the area. It was apparent that there was a zone referred to as the "ground zero," as we saw numerous emergency vehicles and fire trucks. The surroundings were littered with debris and covered in rubble. It was challenging to assess the situation fully, given the limited time available. The clock seemed to tick rapidly, amplifying the urgency of the moment. There was no Verizon network in this zone. As we approached the western section, we had to climb over obstacles and navigate through the debris. The police were enforcing a strict boundary, urging everyone to stay away. It was clear that the entire block had been severely affected, resembling a chaotic scene.
What was truly astonishing was the depth of the underground subway system, with a visible train hanging off the tracks. It was a horrifying sight to witness. I observed a line of firefighters, both working individually and in pairs, as they tirelessly removed rubble and passed it along to one another. This process continued for a stretch of seven blocks. There was a large search and rescue team diligently working on top of the rubble. It was evident that their sole purpose was to find survivors amidst the smoke and debris resulting from the 9/11 attacks.
As we passed by a hole to reach West Street on the right side of Ground Zero, we encountered buildings that had been destroyed by falling debris and parts from the attacks. It was difficult to comprehend how anyone could have survived such a devastating disaster. Looking upwards, one could see metal rods and other debris protruding from various buildings throughout the area. The overall organization of the rescue and cleanup efforts appeared chaotic, with police and national guard personnel frequently stopping individuals to verify their credentials every 100 yards.
As the chaotic scene unfolded, it seemed like everyone around was in uniform or at least part of some coordinated effort. We, too, found ourselves amidst the confusion and started making our way towards the section of West Street. There were about 40-50 men, seemingly like us, following instructions and working together. We were getting little information about what was happening, but there was plenty of water available, allowing us to clean ourselves and stay hydrated.
I put on a bandana to cover my face and wore gloves and sturdy work boots. I felt like a true worker in my rugged attire. It was so hot, it felt like we were inside an oven, with temperatures rising every minute. However, we were not far from the burning site, and the air was thick with the smell of smoke and other chemicals.
We moved along the streets, checking with the foreman and putting on our equipment. Eventually, we made our way back to West St and retrieved the necessary supplies. Painstakingly, we worked our way through the debris, mindful of the ongoing danger. The teams persistence and determination were commendable. At that moment, the tragedy and overwhelming sense of loss surrounded us. I was genuinely grateful to be part of a collective effort to provide assistance. It's remarkable how a situation can grip you and give you the determination to work and contribute to your country. On a normal day, I never envisioned myself volunteering for something so noble. The reality began to sink in, and fear started to creep into my thoughts. I questioned if I should even be there, as if something was amiss. Being away from my wife and kids during this national tragedy felt wrong. I looked around, contemplating the possibility of something falling on me or if the crisis was far from over, perhaps just the initial attack of a series. Panic started to take hold as these thoughts consumed me. What if the perpetrators returned while I was still here? What if I didn't make it back home to my family tonight?
Despite working tirelessly for hours on end, my anxiety only worsened with each passing hour. However, as a man in his late 30s I felt compelled to maintain my composure and not reveal my inner panic. Back then, anxiety wasn't widely discussed among men like me, who were expected to be strong and fearless. I consciously avoided engaging in discussions about conspiracy theories or speculation about what might happen next. I constantly reminded myself to follow the instructions given by my superiors, believing that doing so would eventually bring some resolution.
The intense heat persisted, even as nightfall arrived. Thankfully, the day's work eventually came to an end, and we were able to return home. However, little did I know that this was just the beginning of a long and arduous journey that would shape the rest of my life and existence.