During a radio program on the afternoon of the attack that destroyed the World Trade Center
in Manhattan, Queens Congressman and Tribune founder Gary Ackerman said, “they’ve succeeded in changing the skyline and they’ve changed our lives forever.”
He added, “This evil will not prevail.”
This week the people of Queens proved that their spirit and good will can survive this tragedy. Here are the stories they told the Queens Tribune:
From Just Next Door
Cory McCruden of Flushing reporting to work on Sept. 11th at a banking firm just opposite the WTC. “Ordinarily I stop at the Tuesday Farmer’s Market outside the WTC. Fortunately, this morning I did not and was inside when the first building was struck. I still wonder what happened to those poor people still outside? When the first building was struck, it seemed unreal so I continued to work until I felt the building shake a second time. Then, even though there was no announcement to evacuate nor were any alarms sounding, I and my co-workers said, ‘Let’s get out of here’.”
James Montefinise, Floral Park: “I was sitting at my desk typing when all of a sudden I heard this huge boom. It was so loud, I thought something happened in my building. I looked out the window, and the World Trade Center was on fire. Other people in my office came to my window to see it, and then the other tower blew up. I couldn’t believe it. We all said we’re getting out of here. So we walked downstairs to the subway and a train came right away. Everyone on the train looked stunned. They couldn’t believe what they just saw. Then of course the towers collapsed probably right on the train station I left from. I didn’t know they collapsed until I got home. I was shocked.”
And From Miles Away
Queens College student Kateri Whited: “I was walking on campus when I heard this long, low booming sound. I stopped and looked around, but I didn’t see anything. Everyone was looking around like, ‘what was that?’ Nobody knew. So I just kept walking to the bus, and then I found out what I heard. You could see the smoke from campus.”
Happy Birthday, Karen
Tuesday was Karen Kreiger’s birthday – one that she will never forget.
She began her morning as a CAO for Lehman Brothers which was on the 40th floor of Tower One. There were balloons and flowers from her co-workers, but the celebration was cut short. “We felt something like an earthquake or something hit the building. We saw mounds and mounds of debris.” The elevators were out, so she began walking downstairs as Fire Department personnel rushed up the stairs.
The Jamaica Estates Ambulance Corps called for volunteers on the morning of Sept. 11, and Mike Hartmann and Shelly Kramer were among the first to go to Manhattan. What they found resembled a movie set.
“It was pitch black, said Hartmann. “You couldn’t see 50 feet in front of you. The ash was thick, and people were shell – shocked. It looked like a scene from a Vietnam movie bomb site.”
Just Another Morning
John Rowling, Long Island City: “I woke up and I left my house thinking I was going out to vote. I got my usual cup of coffee at the corner, and I was talking to the guy behind the counter about the mayoral race. I thought that was the most important thing and that I was going to be watching my set all day to see who was winning. I leave the shop, and I hear this deafening explosion. And then the whole world seemed to go in slow motion.
I’m Just The Driver
Mike Cutler of Fresh Meadows: “My jaw opened.” For the past 10 years, Cutler has worked as an executive chauffer for the president of a bank on the 60th Floor of Tower One. He arrived at the building’s parking garage at about 8:50 a.m. and “I smelled something, at first I thought it was garbage burning.” As people raced towards him trying to get out of the building, “I just got out of there,” and he did so in time to witness the second jet crashing into Tower Two.
The Long Road Home
Getting to work on the number 7 train on Tuesday was easy enough for Victor Ortiz of Flushing – it was getting home that was the hard part.
The 27-year-old started his Tuesday morning at a publishing company at 49th Street and Park Avenue until he got a phone call. “A friend called and told me that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.”
Ortiz soon found himself joining the throng of pedestrians walking across the Queensborough Bridge, Ortiz walked across the bridge – a trip that took over an hour, he said.
It was like a marathon. It was unbelieveable.”
Hitching A Ride
Let out on the Queens side of the midtown tunnel Staten Island resident Dawn Venosa and Manhattanite John DiMeglio were two of dozens and dozens of people hitchhiking rides and they ran into Tribune photographer Ira Cohen, who offered them a ride east in the right direction.
In the Tribune office, Venosa, who was two blocks away when the first plane hit one of the twin towers and was not hurt, said it was “horrific, you kept thinking you were going to wake up and it wasn’t going to be real.”
It’s Good To Be Late
Forest Hills resident and college student John Bloom was about to leave for classes at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, two blocks away from the World Trade Center, when he heard the news. As it just so happened, Bloom had late classes that day. “Thank God. I couldn’t believe watching news footage of the wreckage on the street, right where I was supposed to be.”
Without A Warning
Stacy Roebuck, Hollis: “I got into Manhattan at about 10 after eight, and the conductor said that there were delays on the subway. Then the conductor said two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. I got off the F-train at 23rd Street and I looked up because, you know, the World Trade is right there. Well, I looked at that first tower and all I could see was a hole. That’s all that was left. I could hardly see the second building because of all the smoke. I started to walk to my sister’s building so we could find a way to go home. While I was walking, I heard a guy say, ‘Look at that,’ and I looked up and saw the second tower collapse. There wasn’t even any warning. There wasn’t a sound.”
A Bridge Of Support
Kecia Jackson, Hollis: “I walked home over the Queensboro bridge. There were cars on one side of the bridge going to Queens and then the other side was filled with people. We were supporting each other. We all felt the craziness of Manhattan. It was really different on the bridge. We were all happy to be leaving. When we got to Queens, there were people who I think were merchants, handing out cups of water. It was nice. But the crowd was amazed. When you look across the Queensborough Bridge, the Twin Towers should be there.”
Streets around police precincts in Queens were closed to allow police cars to enter and exit precincts with the ease needed to deal with the immediacy of the World Trade Center attack.
Officer Arnie Aprea, a community affairs officer from the 107th Precinct, said, “We were calling in a lot of off-duty police officers and we had to make sure that they were able to get into the precinct with room to park. To make it easier, we just closed off our block to make room for the cars and to allow our police vehicles to maneuver easily.”
She Stayed At Her Post
Summit Security Guard Matilde Samuels was working at the World Trade Center when she heard “a cracking sound from above.” During a prayer vigil at the Allen AME Cathedral in Jamaice, she told the Tribune that when she finally made it out of the 332W, building number one, she began helping others . . . one a fellow “family” member of the trained security team.
She witnessed the second plane crash from under a trestle, body parts fall from the sky and people jumping from the 107th floor to get avoid being burned.
Then she re-entered the building, only to find a man and woman their skin burned off, staring at her and she did not have the equipment to help them. “Not too many survived,” she said.
Main Street, Queens
As thousands of residents were at the polls on Primary Day, one man stood on the roof of Macy’s on Roosevelt Avenue looking through binoculars not believing what he was seeing.
“It looked like a volcano erupting and then I saw the first building come down right in front of my eyes,” he said. “It looked like Pearl Harbor.”
A couple trying to get back home to Pittsburgh were waiting on Main Street for their son to pick them up. They had been evacuated from La Guardia without their luggage and told to just get out right away.
“They were shaky and disgusted. “How can people hate so much,” they said. “They have no regard for human life.”
‘Best’ Of The Finest Missing
They were the “Best” of Queens Finest in the Tribune’s annual issue applauding the borough.
Police Officers from Queens Emergency Service Unit 10 have wrestled some huge problem situations in the past year. From marauding chickens to a 500 lb. calf in Astoria, to a heroic rescue of flood victims after a Jersey hurricane, ESU-10 responded and got the job done.
Members of the unit were some of the first to arrive at the Trade Center chaos. They went into the buildings to help victims escape – and have not been seen since.
Hopes are high at the unit’s headquarters that the missing heroes from Flushing will soon be rescued. We at the Tribune offer our prayers for their safe return.
Eugene Kelty, Chairman of Community Board 7, and a Whitestone resident, is also an FDNY Captain at Engine Co. 10 in lower Manhattan.
Kelty’s unit was one of the first to respond to the twisted wreckage of the World Trade Center. Kelty is well, and working with fellow firefighters n their attempts to rescue victims at the downtown disaster.
– Stories compiled by Nick Abadjian, Ira Cohen, Arlene Lewis, Stephen McGuire, Angela Montefinise, Michelle Sellers and Richard Schack.
Disaster Control: Cops At Shea
BY LIZ GOFF
These people are ready. Dep. Inspector Sal De Pace and his team of NYPD professionals work from a mobile command center at Shea Stadium, coordinating emergency services throughout Queens County.
Buses line the perimeter of the Shea parking lot, waiting to transport city and volunteer firefighters to the scene of the carnage.
There are more than 100 people working at the Shea Command Center, most of whom do not sleep, and who take no time for meals. They will be here, working around the clock, until all of the carnage is sifted for life.
But no one is ready for this.
De Pace and his team realize that some of the people who pass through Shea may not be back. In a case like this, it’s a fact of life.
Late in the afternoon, a call comes in from a 911 operator. They have received a call on a cell phone from a victim – a cop still trapped in the rubble. The Queens cop, gave his location and who he was with. After checking to be certain that the call was not a hoax, rescue teams start to dig for the victims. By morning, there was no sign of them. The cop never called back.
Someone walks into the crowd, carrying a small doll. She has been through some horrible tragedy – one eye is missing, along with chunks of her hair. Her body is ashen, black and bent in places. But to these people, she is a sign of hope, because hope is the energy they are operating on. The doll was pulled from the rubble. “Now we just have to find her owner,” the firefighter said.
“Bear” is a mixed-breed dog who lives in Queens. He is one of three-dozen search and rescue dogs who were deployed to Manhattan on Tuesday night, Sept. 11.
By 10 a.m. Wednesday, Bear had worked 12 hours straight – and pulled seven firefighters from the rubble. Sadly, there were no survivors. But an exhausted Bear continued to search. He sniffed out blood, and gingerly stepped through the rubble listening for sounds of life.
Bear is ready to head back to the site after a brief rest and chow-down. He, like the rest of the team from Queens, are the borough’s lifeline in a time of unrelenting tragedy.
As the day drags on, canine teams and SWAT police arrive at the JFK American Airlines terminal, searching for bombs or other signs of possible terrorist attack.
Three-hundred volunteer firefighters are sent into Manhattan on the waiting buses. No one knows what to expect when they get there. The volunteers express despair and a feeling of helplessness as they wait.
“We’re here trying to work with whoever needs us, wherever,” said volunteer Tom Lucek from Brentwood. “We’re nervous about what we will see, but ready to dig in.”
As the long night stretches into streaks of daylight, a rescuer returns to Shea, carrying a large, white sign. It is the remains of a desk calendar, and on the back someone scrawled the words “Please Remember Us – Tower One, 107 Floor.”
The heroes in this tragedy are too many to count.
Police Guard Faithful Against Hate
BY NICK ABADJIAN
In response to worst day in New York City history, the Police Department deployed officers around the City to guard the it’s religious centers and protect against mis-placed acts of anger and revenge.
Officer Susan Lowney of Community Affairs at the 114th Precinct said it was to make sure that there were “no secondary incidents since the World Trade Center.”
According to the Borough President’s Office, Patrol Borough Queens North and Queens Patrol Borough North held meetings with religious organizations, synagogues and mosques. The Police went over basic security measures with the houses of worship-such as making sure who is coming in and out and looking for packages.
Hours after the tragedy, there was a police van parked outside the Islamic Cultural Center in Astoria, keeping the corner safe.
A person from the center, who refused to disclose his name said, “Just like anybody, we condemn an act of terrorism. It’s an act against God. Moreover, in the holy Koran it is exactly stated that killing one innocent is like killing all mankind.”
“We strongly believe that God will punish people for their acts,” he said. “We came to this country for our freedom. From Bosnia we escape from genocide.
The Islam Institute of New York is a school on Queens Blvd. in Woodside where the majority of students are of Middle Eastern descent, including Palestinians. A school official said at about 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning someone called in to the school and “said they were going to kill our children” for retribution.
Azam Meshket, building manager of the school, said police were notified of the threat and came to the school. No violence occurred at the 400 plus student school.
The Institute had to close early that day, and “is not sure when they are going to re-open.”
“Nobody’s waiting for any kind of explanation about who’s behind it, they just want to blame someone,” said Meshket. “Whether guilty or not, we’re going to be blamed and anger is going to be taken out on us. We have to be very cautious.”
“They thought they got away from this,” she said. “We didn’t expect this…Nobody did.”
An Afghanistan body shop located across the street from Shea Stadium was feeling the heat from angry and frustrated residents who blame Afghanistan for the Trade Center tragedy.
The Afghan Body Shop, located on 126th Street between Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Boulevard in Flushing, was the recipient of several rude, racist remarks from drivers stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic at approximately 5 p.m. on Sept. 11th.
The motorists, who were shocked following the collapse of the famous World Trade Center, screamed comments such as, “Go home, murderers,” “F— your country,” and “Stupid cowards” to the shop’s workers from their car windows. The workers also received nasty looks and obscene gestures from drivers.
Workers at the shop would not comment on the negative attitude that residents had towards them.
A Flood Of Blood Donors
As rescue workers dig through the rubble once known as the World Trade Center, Queens residents turned out in unbelieveable numbers to give blood.
Elmhurst Hospital Center collected approximately 200 pints of blood from about 1,500 people on Sept. 11. The hospital set up a staging area in its auditorium where people fill out questionnaires and prepare to go to a different floor to give blood. The auditorium officially holds 150, but at 2 p.m. on Sept. 12, it was filled with about 180 people of all races and ages and they had to close their doors twice on September 12th to keep the process orderly and safe for everyone involved.
Dario Centorcelli, External Affairs Associate Executive Director, said, “Elmhurst is an interesting area. There are people from all ethnic groups. These people have seen devastation in their countries which many Americans have never known. As soon as a tragedy happens, these people are here, ready to help.”
Donors had to wait two to three hours before being called.
Haley Reichl, a 19-year-old from Hollis, said, “I’ll wait all day if I have to. I want to do something to help. Everyone is just sitting together and talking. We’re comforting each other. I mean, we’re spoiled. We’ve never had a tragedy like this in this nation. It really hits home. Now we’re all coming together to do something about it.”
Dennis Chassil of Long Island City said he was donating blood because he wanted to “pay God back for a miracle.” He worked in the World Trade Center on the 97th Floor. He said, “I was supposed to be there yesterday. I was running late because I was tired from watching the Giants. Talk about luck.”
People interested in giving blood can call 1-800-933-BLOOD.