four survivors tell the Courier of the terror of the attacks

posted on 09/06/2021 06:00

The survivors gave a new meaning to life: they started to value the little things, engaged in solidarity or left their jobs - (credit: SETH MCALLISTER/AFP)

The survivors gave a new meaning to life: they started to value the little things, engaged in solidarity or left their jobs – (credit: SETH MCALLISTER/AFP)

Next Saturday, 20 years will have passed since the day that terrorism struck the greatest power on the planet and haunted the world. At 8:46 am (9:46 am GMT) on September 11, 2001, a sunny Tuesday, five suicide extremists launched the American Airlines Flight 11 plane into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, causing a breach between the 93rd and 99th floors. Seventeen minutes later, five terrorists launched United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower, between the 77th and 85th floors. At 9:59, the South Tower collapsed. The same happened with the North Tower, at 10:28.

The bombings covered New York with a dense layer of dust and spread horror. That same morning, the Pentagon in Washington DC was attacked. Another plane, flying United Airlines Flight 93, crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers tried to take over the cabin. The biggest terrorist attack in history left 2,977 dead, in addition to the 19 hijackers.

Two decades later, the Correio interviewed four survivors — two working in the North Tower, one in the South Tower, and one in a building opposite the World Trade Center. The memories haunt them. Two of them were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Three think the world is not safe. Everyone gave a new meaning to life: they started to value the little things, engaged in solidarity or left their jobs. Read first-person accounts of those forever scarred by terror.

Lolita K. Jackson

54 years old, Executive Director of Sustainable Cities and Communications at Sustainable Development Capital LLC, New York

“I survived the attacks of February 26, 1993 — a truck bomb exploded inside the World Trade Center garage — and September 11, 2001. That morning almost 20 years ago, I was in a conference room on the 72nd floor of the South Tower. Looking out the window, I glimpsed the first plane crashing into the North Tower, at 8:46 am (9:46 am in Brasília). As we descended the stairs, there was an announcement from the security department asking us to take the elevator to the 44th floor.

I was with my friend Thomas Swift, who decided to make a call to his wife and ended up not getting on the elevator. That’s when the plane collided with our tower. I felt the impact, and the building shook. We took 44 floors down the stairs in 10 minutes. On the subway, I learned that the South Tower had collapsed. I suffered trauma. First because Thomas couldn’t leave. Then, because I saw when the North Tower was hit by the plane—a fireball formed and papers fell. My nightmares have to do with the moment of impact.

I realized that if I can get killed on the job, I better love my job for real. I walked away, spent a year and a half sabbatical; and changed careers. I worked for 15 years for the mayor’s office in positions that helped society. All the things I wanted to do, I started doing them fully. This includes getting involved at university as an alum, singing in bands, traveling the world — now I’m in Galapagos, Ecuador, on vacation — being more connected in my relationship with God and just having a full and rich life.”

Manuel Chea

57 years old, Peruvian, New York resident

“Of course I will never forget that day. I can still replay every moment, from the time the plane hit my building to the flight down the stairs. I was always afraid of heights. It’s gotten a lot worse since that 9/11. I remember sitting at my desk on the 39th floor of the North Tower when, at 8:46 am, the building shook like an earthquake. The tower began to rock back and forth simultaneously. I heard a huge explosion above. Immediately, after the building had stopped shaking, I got up from my chair and ran to the stairs. After an hour, I reached the World Trade Center lobby and the street.

The fall of the Twin Towers was the most difficult scene I witnessed that day. When the South Tower fell, I was two blocks away and began to flee from the immense oncoming dust cloud and the debris moving down the street towards me. I was further away when I witnessed the North Tower fall. I couldn’t help but think of the firefighters I’d run into as I walked down the stairs. I knew they had died instantly.

Before 9/11, I was working in information technology at a bank. Now, I help with disaster response at the New York Emergency Management Agency. I have recurring flashbacks. For a time, I avoided the region where the Twin Towers were. I also react with a brief panic to situations that bring back memories. The world is more vigilant, but many attacks have occurred since then. Terrorists find ways to attack. I know one thing: I will not spend my life in fear; if I do, then the terrorists will have won.”

Artie Van Why

68 years old, employee of a law firm in front of the World Trade Center

“I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder shortly after 9/11 and I suffer from it. The attack quickly changed my life. I left the job I had in front of the World Trade Center. I couldn’t go down, day after day, and face the smoking rubble where the Twin Towers were. I wouldn’t deal with it emotionally. I quit. I moved to Pennsylvania to be with my parents. I lived in New York for 26 years. My parents became a priority.

I remember everything that happened. I worked in a building across from the World Trade Center, on the 23rd floor. When the plane hit the North Tower, our building shuddered and we heard an incredibly loud sound. Someone entered the office and said that an aircraft had hit one of the Twin Towers. I thought it was a small plane, that it had the wrong direction. Curious, I went down to see what happened. The street looked like a war zone. Paper and debris covered the asphalt. I looked up at the North Tower and was shocked to see a huge black hole on the side of the building, with fire and smoke.

I saw falling debris. Then I realized it was a person. When I realized they were jumping, I started screaming ‘No!’ several times and ran towards the North Tower. Debris was raining down, and I saw, up close, people fall. I was below the South Tower when the second plane crashed into the building. I started running for my life. I saw a wounded man, with his head open and his brain exposed. There was blood everywhere. An ambulance arrived, but I doubt he survived. I would like to think that the world is safer from terrorism. I don’t think so, especially given the incidents in Afghanistan.”

Kayla Bergeron

58 years old, director of the Forsyth Connection Program, a community organization that aims to help drug addicts. Today, he lives in Suwanee (Georgia)

“I was in the North Tower. My office was on the 68th floor. I was one of the last people to leave the building. The most impressive scenes I keep involved bloody people, including police and firefighters. Shortly after I managed to leave the World Trade Center, the North Tower collapsed. A cloud of thick black soot engulfed Manhattan as I ran for my life, climbing 16 blocks, to the Holland Tunnel.

I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2018. Terrorists stole my career, even though I’m on the path to recovery. Hundreds of survivors were forgotten. They received no assistance. Nothing… I realized that life is fragile. It can be changed in the blink of an eye. There are extremists who hate the US, and we cannot change that. But we can transform the way we treat each other. We can start to respect different points of view. I don’t think the world is any safer, as hatred continues to be instilled among extremists. But, we cannot live in fear. We need to live our lives and take care of those we love.”