Beth Fertig is the contributing editor for education, covering the New York City public school system for WNYC on air and online at SchoolBook.org. She has covered education in the city for more than 15 years. Beth is the author of Why cant u teach me 2 read? Three Students and a Mayor Put Our Schools to the Test (FSG Books) which grew out of a radio series on the low graduation rate for special education students. Follow her @bethfertig.
Thursday, September 13, 2001
In the days following the attacks, reporter Beth Fertig kept her friends and faimily informed through an e-mail diary. She writes candidly about her fears and experiences covering the collapsing towers and the aftermath.
Apologies to all of you for not getting in touch sooner. Most of you probably know by now that I'm alive and well because you either spoke to me, my parents, or you listened to the radio. But I wanted to get in touch with you personally to give you an update and to thank you all for your concern.
Though I am feeling perfectly fine and healthy, and I can assure you I'm safe, the past two days have been more difficult than I can possibly describe in words. Not only for me as a person but as a reporter and a resident of NYC. I feel like a huge piece of my body has been ripped out. That's the only way to describe it. Life is simply not normal and I don't know when it ever will be again.
I got the call on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. from my boss. Being completely focused on the mayoral race - and the primary that was supposed to happen that night - I thought it was a minor plane crash. Some propeller must have bumped into the trade center. But as soon as I left my building I could see the awful reality. The Twin Towers were burning. I had a complete view, because I live in Greenwich Village and my street is a little more than a mile straight north of the Trade Center. Everyone was in the street looking south in shock. I can still see it now: blue sky, bright sunlight, the silver twin towers each with a black hole in the top and orange flames shooting out.
I ran as fast as I could to the subway with my equipment and caught the local train to my office building, which is right across from City Hall in lower Manhattan about 6 blocks from the trade center. The radio station had been evacuated but our morning anchor (Mark Hilan) was staying put and keeping it on the air. I ran to City Hall through a mob of people, and asked the cops where the mayor was. They told me he was probably in his emergency bunker at 7 World Trade - next to the towers. I kept pushing and pushing and got to the southern edge of City Hall Park, about one block east and 2 blocks north of the towers. A female police officer told me I couldn't get any further. I showed her my press pass and microphone and said I had to get closer, I'm a reporter. She said she was doing it for safety reasons and said she was "trying to protect my life." Just as she uttered those words there was a huge rumbling sound like a subway train. I looked up and the southern tower had begun to collapse straight down. I turned on my tape deck and stood for a moment to look, but a huge cloud of dust and debris started swirling and heading east so I ran straight north with thousands of other people. They were screaming and running for their lives and it felt like we were in a disaster movie.
When I got a few blocks north to Foley Square, and the courthouse buildings, I ran straight into my fellow reporter from WNYC, Marianne McCune. We hugged and I cried. We tried to use our cel phones and miraculously, hers was working. We called the station and started reporting live on the air. For the next half hour we pulled any survivors or witnesses to our cel phone to speak to Mark Hilan, the newscaster. We saw fire marshals who had tried to rescue people but were evacuated by the building collapse. They were washing off the concrete dust and debris in the fountain at Foley Square and worrying about the colleagues they couldn't find.
Shortly after we had begun our interviews, we heard another rumble and I knew before I even looked up what it was because it sounded just like the first one. The second tower was going down. It vanished. We couldn't see the whole thing because it was obscured by a tall federal building and there was tons of smoke. But it was clearly gone.
Marianne and I found a triage center in the department of health, and interviewed more survivors. The press woman at the health department was kind enough to let us use her office and we continued broadcasting. I then went on to find the mayor and spent the rest of the day reporting. By the end of the afternoon we had moved our operations to the NPR bureau in midtown because the radio station lost all phone lines. Mark Hilan stayed on the air as long as he could (with reporter Amy Eddings and producer Kaari Pitkin). They camped out overnight in the hopes that we'd resume operations. But we have been broadcasting out of NPR ever since because downtown is still evacuated.
When I left work at 5 in the morning on Wednesday, I couldn't get home by taxi because the streets were closed below 14th street. My taxi driver left me at 5th Avenue and 14th. I started walking down 5th Avenue heading toward Washington Square Park and began sobbing uncontrollably. My favorite view in the world was gone. The Twin Towers weren't there any more to light my way. I wanted them back and every person who had been lost.
I spent yesterday interviewing family members who were looking for those missing people. They are going through more hell than you can imagine. I don't think the bodies will ever be found. The city is getting almost back to normal, but there are still constant police sirens and the streets downtown are filled with big trucks with all kinds of emergency equipment. Greenwich Village is a ghost town. There are no newspapers. Many stores are closed.
I've had calls from all over the country in the past few days. Thanks to everyone for checking in on me. It's still a big and vibrant city and we are all doing our best to keep working and functioning. But our world will never be the same.