A beautiful sunny crisp fall morning morphed into a deeply dreadful day. It began innocuously enough as I listened to my favorite Minnesota Public Radio program The Morning Show (Dale Connelly & Jim Ed Poole) while I traveled to a meeting on a college campus. I parked the car and walked in a happy mood to the building. As I entered the office, the receptionist said to me, “A plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City.” I asked if it was an accident or on purpose. She looked confused and stated, “No one would do that on purpose.” I frowned, shook my head, and asked to see a television. She and another person dragged a TV out of the boss’s office and turned it on. A group gathered around it. I had a sinking feeling of dread and asked them to keep me updated. 9/11 had begun.
I served as an officer on a professional organization’s Board of Directors. The Executive Officer meeting started and I told them that I might have to leave early because of what was occurring in New York City. A fellow officer said, “It won’t affect us.” I stared at her and said, “We don’t know that, at least people from Minnesota live there and many people have friends and family in the area.” Instinctively I knew that it would be horrible, but I could not fathom to what ghastly degree. When the receptionist came in to say that the second tower and Pentagon had been hit everyone looked stunned. I excused myself. I quickly walked by the TV with live shots of New York City and Washington, D.C. surrounded by sobbing office workers. I could not stop or I would have melted on the spot.
My poor twelve-year-old Toyota Tercel rattled as I zoomed at over 70 miles per hour westward on I-94. I didn’t worry about the Minnesota State Troopers, a speeding car was not important at that moment. No radio on because it would have been a distraction to me. The interstate was mostly empty and I feared the worst when I observed cars stopped along the shoulder with the drivers and passengers weeping. My journey was just starting.
I arrived to a flurry of activity at the American Red Cross building near downtown Minneapolis. The Red Cross’ Emergency Operations Center was being set up (it serves as a classroom and regular meeting room when not activated as an EOC). Our phone line was overwhelmed by calls (they have fixed this technical glitch). Many offices in the Twin Cities were closing for the day because they feared another attack. The WTC Twin Towers had fallen during my speedy journey and countrywide panic started to rise.
Immediately I walked to the EOC and spoke with Bill who worked in Disaster Services. He said that a plane had crashed in Pennsylvania and I experienced a mild panic attack. Bill is an extraordinary person, he lead me to a quiet place and helped me breathe. I calmed down and he made sure that I was able to function. He went back to his work. When a disaster occurs you fall back onto your training. My boss and co-worker were out of the office so I was on my own. I knew what to do after I stopped panicking. I had to focus on my job. I could neither concentrate on the profoundly horrible events that had occurred nor speculate about what might happen next. No one knew if more planes had been highjacked and that caused uncertainty and fear. Our office received a call from the airport that they were bringing in flights with hundreds of passengers. We sent supplies to the airport.
We activated our trained Red Cross volunteer corps to come in to the EOC. We needed assistance with calls and people walking into the office. They wanted to do something, anything to help. It was a very busy time. I didn’t have a cell phone but my parents did call me at the office that afternoon. It was good to hear their voices. Gasps and a hand placed over the mouth is something odd I remember about that day. I observed many people covering their mouth as they realized the extent of the damage. It is the first flash of emotional shock. Later on I learned that it is a method to reduce vulnerability. If a predator realizes that you are in shock, it will pounce. Covering your mouth is a way to hide the shock. I think that almost everyone covered his or her mouth at one point during the day. However, the predators had already struck.
The remainder of September 1st, 2001 is a blur. I don’t remember what time I traveled to my apartment. It was after dusk. There were candles on the bridge decks. I didn’t know why they were there but it was touching to see. I had neither been watching television nor listening to the radio because I was too busy. Someone brought in food so I must have eaten but that is rather foggy.
I arrived home, took a shower and started watching the news. It was too late to call back the dozen people who had left me messages. The televised images were disturbing and I knew that the death toll would be horrendous. I fell asleep on the couch and awoke to a roar. A loud airplane whooshed over my apartment building and shook the windows. I ran over and saw the yellow-orange afterglow of a jet-propulsion burner. I knew that it was a military aircraft but why was it flying over the Twin Cities metro area when all airplanes were grounded? Was it another attack? I freaked out and called a friend who I knew was awake (she never goes to bed before 1am). She told me that the military was flying around for protection. That was good, but they were too damn low. Exhaustion caused me to sleep but I was up by dawn to return to work.
What a dreadful day.