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9/11 memories on the 20th anniversary of the WTC attacks

By Rene Pastor | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2021-09-11 06:40

A person stands in the rain with a red rose at the 9/11 Memorial ahead of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in Manhattan, New York, Sept 9, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

I was in NYC when the Two Towers collapsed.

If I am taking part in a journalism workshop, I noticed the students seem to sit up a little straighter when I tell them I was there the day 3,000 people died in those attacks.

My desk was on the 19th floor of the Reuters building on Times Square. It sat a few convenient steps from the toilet.

The office was just structured that way.

I had come in on the 116 bus from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, just after 7 with my wife and 10-year old daughter. We went down into the Port Authority bus terminal.

We parted at the subway entrance. They got on the C or E train, transferred to the L train at 14th Street and 8th Avenue, for the short ride to 1st Avenue, where my daughter was attending Catholic school.

I got out of Port Authority, crossed the already filling streets and walked the one corner to 3 Times Square.

At that time in the morning, there were no crowds and it was easy to get to the McDonalds to pick up a sausage Mcmuffin and a cup of orange juice.

I got into the building, made my way to my spot on the commodity desk and sat down.

I was backstopping for the regular reporter on the cocoa futures market because she was on her way to a conference. I was also covering for her on the arabica coffee futures market, coordinating with colleagues in London as the trading day in the U.S. got started.

Just after 8 in the morning, the TV news was buzzing with a report that a passenger jet plane had crashed into the north tower of the WTC.

We thought it was just a horrible accident.

A few minutes after 9 am, while staring at the TV screen, me and the commodities EIC watched as the second plane slammed into the south tower.

"It's a terrorist attack," he said while holding a phone. A friend of his he was talking to was in the south tower when the second plane crashed into the building. The line went dead. So was his friend.

For the next 8 hours, I was part of a reporting team that put together what we call the main trunk on the shutdown of financial markets caused by the attacks on the WTC.

It is standard wire service journalism. Soon as you finish one report, you start working on the next one.

In between, I tried calling my wife who was working in an office on 6th and 21st Street.

With the subways shut down, she hiked over to 1st Avenue and 14th Street to pick up our daughter, Veana.

Veana had new shoes on, causing blisters on her feet. They hiked back to her office, went out for a brief lunch and by the time they got back, the office had shut down.

They then walked 20 blocks to the Reuters office in Times Square. We hugged in the lobby and then I escorted them to the canteen on the 16th floor. They could not go home because all trains had been shut down, cutting off Manhattan.

Back on the desk, I also began working the phones to look for officials of the New York Board of Trade, the commodity exchange at that time.

The reason was fairly simple. I wanted to check if they were alive.

I also began looking for my sources in the markets. One well-known commodity analyst disappeared for a while because she had to cross the Hudson river to safety in New Jersey.

Unfortunately, the school told her daughter her mother was missing. The girl freaked out. They were finally united, but not without an angry mother. She told me the story about a month later.

Another trader friend walked uptown to find a way to get home by crossing the river to his home in northern New Jersey. I got in touch with him a few days later and he was still shaken.

By the time I filed my last trunk story near 5 pm, the Path train from Herald Square to Newark was opened.

Alden Bentley told me to go home, but come back early the next day.

I gathered my wife and daughter and we walked to the Path Station.

The people who filled the train were unlike any New York City riders I remember.

They were deathly quiet. Not a peep, not a sound. Everyone was looking down at their shoes.

When we got off the train at Newark, one official began shouting for us to leave the station because of a bomb threat.

We began running. I was exhausted but my daughter saw the then number 62 bus which ran from Newark to Perth Amboy. She flagged it down and we scrambled on board.

The bus took about 2+ hours to get to the Harbortown development in Perth Amboy, passing a number of checkpoints along the way.

We got off in Perth Amboy near the Catholic church and started walking to our place.

My wife's father was overjoyed when we walked into the townhouse. He was being kept company by my wife's brother so he would not totally panic.

Everyone was safe. That was the only thing that mattered.

My daughter took a shower, got into her jammies and finally plopped into bed about an hour later. She immediately fell asleep. Her school was out for a week.

I took a peek inside her bedroom to make sure she is safe. My wife went to sleep a few minutes later.

I got into living room and turned on the news.

Half an hour later around 11 pm, I turned in myself, while aiming to wake up at 6 the next morning.

That was 9/11 for me. 9/12 was coming soon enough.

Even 20 years ago, almost every second of that day is sharply etched in my memory.

The author is a China Daily copy editor.

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