9/11 Lives in Our Memories!

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One of the new structures at the site of the World Trade Center. (Mohamed Alim Hassim / The West Indian photo)

Shocked and Wounded, WTC has Been Transformed into an Architectural Masterpiece

COMMENTARY
By Dr. TARA SINGH

My memories of the 9/11 attack are hard to fade; these still hover around the center of my mind’s radar and remind me continually of how life could change course dramatically within a few moments. This massive destruction to life, property and to dreams has forced me to engage in introspection (self-analysis).

The World Trade Center (WTC) is an area that I used to frequent during the mid-days prior to 9/11. The hustle and bustle in and around the WTC also represent a confluence of people whose cultures have been drawn from several countries and which add to the rich diversity of New York City, which is the home of over 170 nationalities.

The WTC site was viewed as the heart of American capitalism and the center of communication and commerce. The NY Stock Exchange, Wall Street, the City’s administration, and other major offices are located nearby. The WTC Towers 1 and 2 were targeted because these represented strategic activities and symbolisms. Though the devastation had been astronomical that was not enough to crush the indomitable American spirit of conquering seemingly impossible challenges. Today, that pioneering spirit has ushered into a new WTC landscape configuration which displays new majestic buildings whose architectural splendor could not escape the piercing eyes of even those who despise the US. Below (underground) the new buildings is the inter-state railway hub as well as a modern state-of-the-art mall. These and other projects have also made this WTC site into a major tourist attraction.

I have always tried to understand why and how would anyone descend to such base level to wantonly kill the innocent, including children. To seek justification from religion for such abominable acts is even unthinkable, yet they do because they embrace a perverted version of religion. And the reality is that they believe in it (the perverted version)! However, I should point out that not all terrorist acts have their base in religious fanaticism; some have it in politics while others have it in territorial and turf disputes or personal emotional turbulence.

On Tuesday September 11, 2018, I couldn’t help but recall the horrible images of the World Trade Center destruction in which over 2000 persons perished. It seemed to me then and even now, that America was caught off guard. They didn’t think that terrorists, including Al Queda, would attack American targets with aircraft, and particularly commercial ones! The bitter lesson learnt from that horrendous experience is that terrorists will explore and utilize any method to destroy their prized targets. They don’t think of collateral damage. My conversation with many religious leaders indicates that no religion sanctions this type of depraved violence.

Seventeen years ago, on Tuesday September 11, 2001, I arrived at work in Manhattan at 8am. My office was about 4-5 blocks away from the World Trade Center. There was nothing within the environment to make anyone feel jittery or anxious. Shortly after arriving at office and organizing my work for the rest of the day, I was disturbed from that routine by a tremendous bang at about 8:45am. I dropped whatever I was doing, rushed to the southern window on the 5th floor of the building; looked through the window and saw black smoke rising in the air. The area was downtown Manhattan but I wasn’t sure that it was the WTC towers that were hit. Two of my colleagues were at the window and I told them that it was a terrorist attack and explained why. They were not convinced. A few minutes later another tremendous explosion occurred seemingly at the same site. I immediately told my colleagues that it had to be a terrorist attack. By then the TV and radios began to broadcast the terror attacks on the WTC. All work stopped instantly in the office and colleagues seemed disoriented as more news began to flow.

We were given instructions to leave the buildings around 10:00 am and go home. Rather, my curiosity got the better of my judgment and I headed towards the WTC site. I walked westward about 4 blocks from my office onto Chambers street and thence onto West Broadway and headed south towards to the WTC Towers. Flames and smoke were swiftly engulfing the area but the highest concentration occurred at the spots that were struck by the American Airlines and the United Airlines aircrafts. I reached to the post office building, adjacent to the WTC, where I saw one of the jets of the aircraft in the middle of West Broadway. The explosion was so massive that the jet flew hundreds of feet from the towers. A few minutes later, police came and sealed off the entire area and asked everyone to leave for home. My vision became blurred, and my thoughts foggy.

Feeling despondent I left and boarded the “J” train at Chambers Street. On its way to Queens through Brooklyn the train stopped over the Brooklyn Bridge. From there we had a clear view of the WTC twin towers. As everyone watched in bewilderment both towers came crashing down. There was a loud “scream” in the train and many people began to weep. The heart of America’s financial system was ripped apart and its rich symbolisms torn asunder.

I later learnt that over 2000 lives were lost. At the time (8:45am-9:15am) of the attack, about 17,000 people were in the twin towers. If the attack had happened later in the day, there could have been 50,000 people in the towers! I just don’t want to think what might have happened then! On the same day, one American Airlines aircraft struck the pentagon at 9:37am. The attackers showed that they could strike at the heart of America’s military might. A United Airlines aircraft that was headed for Washington crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, as the passengers wrestled with the attackers. All the passengers perished in that crash.

At home, my mind became turbulent as I began to wonder how is it that these terrorists were able to pass security checks and carried out this massive coordinated attack. Having failed to get an answer, I switched my focus onto the victims. Later on that day, I learnt of a number of Guyanese who had perished. I also received news that one of my nieces had been able to escape the carnage because she and few others, though blinded by smoke and debris went hustling down the stairs by groping onto the rails/wall. When they exited the building they had to be cleaned with water hose. She and a few of her colleagues were saved, but those who didn’t take that path, perished. There are many powerful stories of 9/11of faith, courage, determination, as well as anguish and pain. The leadership of Mayor Rudy Giuliani was exceptional and so was the first responders. There were many heroes. The funeral service of Ronald Singh and Kamini Singh (siblings) in Brooklyn was a heart wrenching occasion. Tears were literally flowing like the Kaieteur falls. Kamini and Ronald Singh were attached to “Windows on the World” on the 107th Floor of Tower 1.

The attack of 9/11 was not the first on the WTC. On February 26, 1993 a bomb concealed in a van was detonated in the underground garage resulting in the loss of 6 lives and injury to 1,042 people. The terrorists had known since then that it was hard to attack an American symbol of success and capitalism from the ground, and that they had to re-think their strategy. Thus, was born the idea of an aerial attack! In the 9/11 attack 25 Guyanese were killed. On a per capita basis per nationality, the casualty rate of Guyanese was the highest of any country. Shortly afterwards, the Guyanese community held a memorial service in honor of those killed and to express its support for the bereaved families. Our condolence to the victims’ families. Though the wounds might have healed over the years, the scars still remain.

Guyanese killed: Patrick Adams, Rudy Bacchus, Pamela Boyce, Kris Romeo Bishundat, Annette Dataram, aka Priya, Sabita Guman, Nizam Hafiz, Ricknauth Jaggernauth, Charles Gregory, John Bhowanie, Devi Khemraj, Sarah Khan, Amarnauth Latchman, Shevonne Mentis, Marcus Neblett, Hardai Parbhu, Vishnu Ramsaroop, Amenia Rasool, Sita Sewnarine, Shiv Shankar, Kamini Singh, Ronald Singh, Astrid Sohan, Joyce Stanton, Patricia Stanton, Vanava Thompson.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN. 

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