It will be 20 years this weekend since a terrorist attack on New York and Washington D.C saw over 3000 lives lost. Dundalk woman Andrea O’Connor tells Olivia Ryan how she still lives with the trauma of the World Trade centre attacks.
It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp September morning in downtown Manhattan. Production assistant Andrea O’Connor was hard at work on a New York Fashion week event, close to the Empire State Building,
“It was such a busy time of year for me, Fashion Week is hectic, but really good fun. I was downtown at Bryant Park when people started saying a commuter plane had flown into one of the towers at the World Trade Centre.”
“Everyone was talking about it, wondering how on earth something like that could happen. then suddenly, we heard it, a plane going into the second tower. The noise was so loud. Within I’d say two to three minutes there was a few hundred NYPD officers in the tents yelling at us to get out and run as there were rumours that another plane was headed for the Empire State building.”
Leaving all her belongings behind her, she made for the nearest street -Fifth Avenue – and was horrified to witness a swarm of people running, fleeing the devastation at the Twin Towers.
“People were screaming, crying, many were covered in ash and debris from the huge plume of smoke that emerged after the first tower fell. No one knew where to go, and all cell phone coverage was down as the main phone masts for the city were actually on top of the towers.”
In the midst of such horror she knew she had to try and make contact with her parents back at home.
“I had been in San Francisco when the earthquake struck in 1989, and I knew how worried people are back at home when things like this happen. So I made my way across towards St. Patrick’s Cathedral, my cousin worked in a restaurant close to it, and I was able to use a landline to call home and let them know I was OK.”
Andrea, who moved back to Dundalk a few years ago, was living in Queen’s in 2001, commuting in and out of the city every day to work.
"But every single subway and bridge was closed after the attack. We waited for hours until there was word that some of the bridges were open to let people walk out of the city.’
Walking for miles across to the 59th Street bridge, she recalls ‘literally thousands of people walking in complete and utter silence, It was the eeriest experience, and it was so hot that day.”
At one point, she recalls looking back at the skyline “and the huge gaping hole where the Towers had stood.”
“There was smoke billowing from the scene, it was terrifying. It felt like the end of the world. People were just so scared.”
When she made it across the bridge towards her home, she remembers local people all standing, handing water bottles out to those streaming out of the city.
It was then, she adds, that the shock and disbelief gave way to utter sadness at the inevitable huge loss of life.
“I actually lived right beside a Fireman’s bar, and the impact of so many firefighters lost really hit home. There was a church close by too, and for weeks there were memorials going by, sometimes with no coffins, it was horrific.”
“Everyone in the city was affected, I had a close friend whose husband worked at a bank beside the World Trade Centre. She told me how he came out of the building and saw people falling, or jumping, from the Towers. It was just horrific, how do you ever get over something like that?
Like most New Yorkers, she has ‘really fond memories’ of the mammoth towers that dominated the skyline for decades.
“I had been in them many, many times, and the Windows to the World restaurant. The World Trade Centre was such an incredible landmark, and like many people I used it as a guide when I was trying to find somewhere, like I’d ask if it this place or that place was left of the Towers, or right of them, and then I’d know where I was going.”
"But that all changed on September 11th, everyone felt disorientated for so long, and there was so much personal trauma, and many, many more deaths of people who became sick as a result of the debris and smoke they were exposed to that day.”
"For me, it still feel feels very emotional, and raw, even though it’s been twenty years.”
As every September has come around since she says: “I can’t watch anything about it on television, or the news, it’s just too hard. This one is going to be really tough, I’m not looking forward to the day.”