In Tragedy's Wake Community Rallies & Waits
By JORDAN MOSS and HANNAN ADELY
All photos by Jordan Moss
Tuesday, the 11th, started out as September's most glorious day, with a crisp morning coolness and a cloudless sky.
It was perfect weather for the primary election that had local candidates pounding the pavement all summer in preparation. In a final dash for votes, Laura Spalter was out shaking hands across from PS 56 in Norwood at 7:30 a.m. with Board of Education president Ninfa Segarra. Ninety minutes later, when an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center, politics of any kind seemed insignificant.
While chaos reigned in lower Manhattan as the Twin Towers collapsed and thousands were feared dead, an eerie calm fell over the north Bronx. Except for schoolchildren and parents, the streets were mostly vacant, with residents glued to their television sets watching the day's unfolding events. Meanwhile, all the people who make our communities run every day geared up for the tragedy's ripple effect.
Late in the day at North Central Bronx Hospital (NCB), a traffic jam of empty stretchers crowded the area outside the emergency room, next to special plastic showers to wash off debris and ash.
Inside, Dr. Kevin Brown, director of the Emergency Room, said the situation was mostly calm. Four people had come in on their own for treatment for smoke inhalation. But overall, most city hospitals were seeing few patients. "They're not able to get them out," Brown said. "For the most part, they were crushed to death." (Even late Wednesday evening, things were quiet at Manhattan hospitals.)
NCB did see more than 50 local residents come in to donate blood by 5 p.m. Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff also poured in on their day off to volunteer their services. Brown said hospital workers were bracing for a potentially large number of depression and psychiatry cases from grief-stricken New Yorkers.
Earlier in the day, at Montefiore Medical Center, only a couple of hours after tragedy struck, a long line formed of staff and community residents ready to give blood. The presence on the line of Yvette Vogel, the mother of City Council candidate Mark Vogel, who had earlier in the morning been distributing campaign literature in front of polling places on behalf of her son, was symbolic of a day's priorities put in sharp perspective.
The tragedy brought some unusual sights, including fire engines from the city of Yonkers patrolling the area, serving as reinforcements for Bronx trucks pressed into service in Manhattan and elsewhere. At the 52nd Precinct there were so many cars of off-duty officers reporting for duty, that a grassy stretch of Mosholu Parkway across from the station house doubled as a parking lot. Two Lehman College vans were out in front, loaned to the precinct to augment its fleet of vehicles.
Next door at PS 20, parents who hadn't pulled their kids out of school early, as many did, were waiting for their children at dismissal. PS 20 was designated a "feed center" for District 10, where children of parents unable to make it home on time to pick them up from school, would be given dinner.
Tracy Gordon, a Bedford Park parent of a third grader at the school, was at work at a Manhattan real estate firm when the company president sent him home. It took him three hours to get there. He wondered how best to tell his 10-year-old what happened and why. "I asked my fiancé, "How do we explain this to our kid?'" he said. "I feel so violated. Violated is not even the word." Gordon also worried about his sister, who works across the street from the World Trade Center.
At PS 8, principal Bob Weinstein stayed at the school into the early evening, discharging children into their parents' custody. "It was amazing to see how parents just gravitated to the school when they heard about it," he said. "Parents get very emotional when they see these things." Weinstein praised his staff. "The teachers kept their cool," he said.
Though the chaos sometimes seemed far off, reminders of how close it was were not hard to find. At the Five-Two, community affairs officer Mark Morisi could hear the cries for help over his police radio from officers stuck in or around the World Trade Center. Police officers stood idle most of the day, waiting to be called for duty and worrying about the fate of their colleagues. As many as 80 cops were thought to have died in the collapsed buildings and over 200 firefighters were reported missing.
And many local residents, particularly those who live and work in this community's tall buildings, like the two hospitals, Scott Tower and Tracey Towers, could see the horror unfold without the aid of a television.
By day's end, almost everyone seemed to know of someone, or knew of someone who knew someone, who was in some way affected by the horrific turn of events.
And though everyone seemed to understand that things would get a lot worse before they got better, there was the comfort of knowing that colleagues, family and friends, would be there to help them through it.
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