America Remembers Part II

New York Times
Monday, November 8th, 2010

On November 8th, 2006, America lost the innocence to a world it was not prepared to be woken up to. In the aftermath of the explosion the city — and the world — was in a state of chaos and panic. What we had come to believe was immunity from disasters of this caliber had been shattered. Hundreds of thousands died in an instant, but hundreds of thousands more would die in the following weeks to come.

Blame has been placed on many sides for the failure of the Federal Emergency Relief and Management Agency following the bomb, blame on all levels of government in the Bush administration for being unable to properly allocate resources that were waiting and ready to handle the crisis but unmanaged by administrative bottlenecks.

The fires that spread through Manhattan, the cause of the majority of what is now known as the ruins of Midtown, were too great for the strain already put on a crippled NYFD. Unabated, the fires spread and consumed houses, burning through the heart of the island of Manhattan from ground zero at Kirby Plaza.

But the damage not done by the fire was done by panic. Scores of people attempting to flee New York City congested the roads with traffic, haste and panic decisions led to traffic accidents that blocked off entire streets. By the time people began fleeing on foot with the possessions they could carry in hand, the looting and riots had already begun.

Mass hysteria led to the worst of the post-bomb violence in those first hours. Storefronts were smashed open, businesses and homes were invaded, absolute pandemonium contributed to local law-enforcement being helpless to handle the situation and restore order.

When the emergency broadcast detailing the direction of the fallout cloud heading to Staten Island and Jersey City was released, the situation would only become more tragic. With only four land routes off of Staten Island in 2006, traffic jams on the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge, the Outerbridge Crossing, Goethal's Bridge and Bayonne Bridge led to further violence and panic. The exodus from Staten Island divided families and cost thousands of lives.

One such former resident of Staten Island, Marry-Anne Cross, was there on the Bayonne Bridge the day it collapsed.

"My hansband [Stephen Cross] and I were on the south side of the bridge. There were cars deadlocked ahead of us. People had been using the breakdown lane to try and get around, but there was some kind of accident up ahead. The train on the bridge was locked in place, what we didn't know is that it had come off the rails. When we first heard the bridge groaning, we didn't know what to make of it. Manhattan was on fire head of us, but we were trying to get to my mother in Battery Park City."

"I don't remember the actual collapse very well. There was a loud cracking, people were already running from ahead of us back off the bridge and before I knew it I could see cars falling. I remember running, Stephen was shouting for me. I got caught in a wave of people fleeing the bridge collapse, tripped and fell. The last thing I remember was people stepping on me, I blacked out."

"I woke up a couple days later to find out that I had been dragged to safety by another family that had been fleeing the bridge collapse. I was at Mt.Sinai in Queens, five other patients sharing my room with me. I never found out the name of the family that helped bring me in. I found out two months later that Stephen had been trapped in the car, his seatbelt wouldn't unlock, and he drowned. I've been trying to find the family that saved me for four years now, I don't even know if they're still alive. But I owe them my life, and I know Stephen would want to thank them too."

Mary-Anne's story isn't a unique one. Tragedies like this spread out like ripples in a pond from the explosion in the aftermath. In the wake of the exodus from queens, rioting, looting and home invasions spread into much of eastern New Jersey. When Jersey City was evacuated due to the radioactive fallout, thousands of those poisoned by the toxic cloud fled west, and many did not receive treatment that could have saved their lives.

But for every death, there are hundreds more stories like Mary-Anne Cross, where the kindness of strangers helped bring together the people of this country in crisis, when they needed to be a union more than ever.

(To Continue Reading, Flip to A7: Political Fallout)

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License