I’m constantly astounded at the timing of events in my life. Maybe it was always like this, but I never took the time to notice it. Now that I’m getting older, timing of certain events seems much more evident to me.
I just returned from working with one of our clients in the Wall Street area of New York City. I must admit that it really didn’t dawn on me that we are fast approaching the seventh anniversary of the tragic devastation of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
I arrived in the Big Apple after the typical flight fiasco that accompanies every trip to NYC. The cab ride from LaGuardia Airport to the Millennium Hilton in lower Manhattan was as long, slow, and hectic as usual, and I arrived somewhat tired and frustrated. I was aware of the fact that my hotel was in the heart of the financial district, not far from a number of tourist attractions such as Wall Street, China Town, Soho, Tribeca, the Holland Tunnel, and the Stock Exchange. I discovered another attraction as I finally arrived at my room on the 30th floor.
After shedding my luggage, I opened the drapes to get a view of the New York skyline. Oddly enough, the first thing to greet my eyes was the Hudson River glistening in the late afternoon sunlight two blocks in front of me. Across the river, I could plainly see the Jersey City skyline, standing proudly on the opposite shore. Within mere seconds, my eyes quickly worked their way back toward my hotel, and I was suddenly confronted with a breathtaking, almost heart-stopping view of a 16-acre hole in the ground commonly known as Ground Zero. It was a total shock to me as I had entered the hotel from a side entrance and had no idea I was so close to this historic site.
As my eyes focused on the scene below, dozens of thoughts went through my mind faster than I was capable of processing them. It was hard to believe that this horrific scar on the face of what is often called the “World’s Capital City” once housed the two 110-floor Twin Towers, World Trade Center Buildings #4, #5, #6, and #7 and the World Financial Center complex.
From my position 30 floors above a densely packed mass of humanity, I saw nothing but dirt, heavy construction, dozens of dump trucks, and a fenced walkway around the perimeter erected to safely allow visitors to pay their respects as they try to comprehend the enormity of the devastation. This is what remains SEVEN years after that fateful morning that changed our lives in so many drastic ways!
The building in which I was standing, the Millennium Hilton, was also moderately damaged and has been repaired and remodeled. However, I tried to imagine what it was like to stand in this large picture window directly across the street from the Twin Towers as they were attacked and ultimately destroyed.
My mind continued to spiral through the many pictures, film clips, and news articles I’ve viewed over the years describing this horrible tragedy. The world watched in horror as approximately 3,000 people died, including 350 rescue workers. The overwhelming majority of casualties were civilians, including nationals of more than 90 different countries.
Three of the seven buildings in the World Trade Center Complex collapsed due to structural failure that day. The south tower fell at approximately 10 a.m., after burning for 56 minutes in a fire caused by the impact of United Airlines Flight 175. The north tower collapsed a half hour later after burning for approximately 102 minutes. 7 World Trade Center collapsed later in the day at 5:30 p.m. after being hammered by debris and fires all afternoon.
1,366 people died who were at or above the floors of impact in the North Tower. According to the Commission Report, hundreds were killed instantly by the impact, while the rest were trapped and died after the tower collapsed. As many as 600 people were killed instantly or were trapped at or above the floors of impact in the South Tower. And most incomprehensible, at least 200 people jumped to their deaths from the burning towers, landing on the streets and rooftops of adjacent buildings hundreds of feet below. All of these facts raced through my mind as I took in the view unfolded 30 floors below me.
As appalling as these facts sound, it could easily have been much worse. Believe it or not, the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) estimated that approximately 17,400 civilians were in the Trade Tower Center complex at the time of the attacks! The vast majority of people below the impact zone safely evacuated the buildings, along with 18 individuals who were in the impact zone in the south tower.
I share this information not to be morbid or to unlock the tragic memories we shared as a proud nation. I do it in the hope that we understand that we can never forget that devastating day and what it has meant to us and the world in the days that have passed. For many years, those majestic Twin Towers, reaching for the heavens, served as a navigational system for New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world, They served as a compass from any point in this enormous metropolis. Today, there’s very little to see, and yet the site nonetheless attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, by even conservative estimates.
I finally managed to pull myself away from that window and made my way to dinner. Later that night, near midnight, I made my way to the street to join hundreds of tourists from all over the world as they shuffled the perimeter of this eerie site of contemplation, loss, reverence, respect, survival, heroism and hope. I can’t describe the emotion in the air that evening, but I can tell you that it could be cut with a knife. At that stirring moment, everyone there was an honorary and very proud American.
New York has resolved to rebuild the WTC, and redevelopment is underway to transform Ground Zero into a thriving union of commerce. Five new towers are scheduled for completion by 2012. However, until that happens, citizens of the world will continue to take advantage of the free walking tour through five exhibits or the one-hour guided tours available for a $10 donation. Ironically, those tours begin on a side street bordering the historic site … a street filled with vendors selling souvenirs, pictures, and replicas of the towers … a street christened LIBERTY STREET.
While this event was tragic and will always be viewed with sorrow and pain, it must be remembered as a lesson never to be forgotten … a remembrance dedicated to the men, women and children who lost their lives; all those who sacrificed their lives; and to all the heroes who responded to the emergency in New York City, Washington, D.C., and a farmer’s field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on September 11th, 2001.
We must never forget those 16 acres, seven buildings, 3,000+ people, two towers, and doomed zip code—10048. Take just a few moments out of your busy day and do your part to remember and respect those who lost their lives on that tragic day by viewing the video Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?
Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars,
and consulting services.
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