Posts about 911

It’s no ride

I’m riding the PATH train into the World Trade Center this morning across from a dad on vacation — it’s that season, suddenly — who’s wearing a baseball cap and shorts over his never-seen-sunlight legs. As we come into the WTC, he brightens up, smiles, and shouts: “Hey, kids, Ground Zero!”

I wanted to slap him. No, actually, I wanted to pull him aside and say:

Sir, this is still a solemn place. It is the site of a terrible crime and tragedy. And for all you know, some of your fellow passengers on this train may have been here that day or lost friends or loved ones here. If passing a cemetery and seeing a funeral going on, would you shout, “Kids, a corpse”? I’m sure you wouldn’t. Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not asking that you treat this like a funeral. It’s not. Just please don’t treat it like Disneyland. Have a little respect. Thank you.

I wouldn’t do that because I wouldn’t want to embarrass the guy in front of his kids, who already appeared plenty embarrassed anyway.

Fingerpointing while Rome burns

Incredible and downright disgusting story in this morning’s Times: The Department of Homeland Doltishness is blaming New York for getting less money for terrorism because the city didn’t fill out forms properly.

In a flurry of charges and countercharges, federal officials said yesterday that the city not only did a poor job of articulating its needs in its application, but it also mishandled the application itself, failing to file it electronically as required and instead faxing its request to Washington.

How about trying to do what’s right and necessary to protect citizens from terrorist murderers. I thought that’s what a Department of Homeland Security was supposed to do.

In the hole

Last night, I left the World Trade Center Health Registry meeting and came through the WTC on my way home, as usual. The meeting, of course, cast the place in a different light. It usually feels empty to me. Last night, it was filled again with dust and destruction and memories.

This morning, I got up the courage to watch the trailer for Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center movie. The trailer is supposed to be in the theaters now. Though I’ve seen four movies in New York City and the suburbs since it came out, I haven’t seen the trailer in a theater once. I guess they just don’t want to play it here. But it’s online. The scenes are, of course, hard to watch, so reminiscent, so literal, this being a Stone movie. “There is no plan,” Nicholas Cage says, and I can feel the agenda coming on. But not in the trailer. At the movie’s site, though, the Flash intro shows stills over pensive music as the two Port Authority cops this movie is about — the last two people rescued from the site — talk about it. At the end, a voice says, “It is the story of the humanity of 9/11. It’s not about the terrorists.”

And so it occurred to me: Here is Oliver Stone, the conspiracy theorists to beat all conspiracy theorist, facing the biggest conspiracy he could imagine — bin Laden terrorists with Saudi money plotting right under our noses to a devastating outcome. But this conspiracy, he’s ignoring. I shake my head.

And I shake my head again as I go to the newsstand at the World Trade Center PATH station this morning — where I was headed that morning almost five years ago — and I see the New York Post headline: “Washington to New York: TERROR? WHAT TERROR? Feds slash our funds to boost hicks in sticks.” The Homeland Insecurity Department dropped New York’s funds by 40 percent while increasing Omaha’s by 82 percent and Louisville’s by 70 percent. Part of their alleged rationale is that we don’t have national monuments or icons. Oh, we had one. But it’s gone now.

The World Trade Center Health Registry meeting

I’m at the first public meeting of the World Trade Center Health Registry. More than 71,000 people registered and gave 30-minute interviews on their health after the attacks; it is the largest health registry in U.S. history. There are perhaps a few hundred in the room tonight. I look around at this diverse crowd of people and realize that the only thing that brings us together is what we experienced that day.

Tonight, they will release their first results and answer questions.

: A few days ago, I went to my doctor for a checkup and he ordered an annual chest X-ray since I inhaled a great deal of the cloud of destruction that day, which led to pneumonia and then to my cardiac fibrillation. The doctor warned me that my insurance might not cover the X-ray. What? “There’s no code for 9/11,” he said. Cough.

: In the registry, 61 percent were building occupants or passers-by; 43 percent were rescue workers; 21 percent were residents of the area; 4 percent were school students and staff. 42 percent were caught in the dust and debris cloud; 55.7 percent witnessed at least one traumatic event; 14.4 percent evacuated from a damaged building; 5.8 percent worked on the WTC pile. In the preliminary findings, 67 percent reported respiratory health symptoms. Adult enrollees reported higher rates of psychological distress than the citywide average (8 v. 5 percent).

A first study of a subgroup concentrated on survivors of collapsed and damaged buildings, not passers-by (like me) or rescue workers. Of them 95 percent witnessed a traumatic event, 64 percent three or more; 62 percent were caught in the cloud; 44 percent sustained injuries; 57 percent reported respiratory problems and 11 percent probable severe psychological distress.

Those caught in the dust cloud have much worse health problems than the rest: 46 vs. 25 percent reported sinus irritation, 44 v 21 shortness of breath, 34 v 17 persistent cough, 14 v. 6 psychological distress, 2 v 1 percent newly reported asthma. These problems were reported two to three years after 9/11.

That is frightening for those of us who did inhale and ingest the debris from that cloud.

A study about evacuation found that women — who usually are the first out in a disaster — were slower in this case because of the difficulty they had with their footwear. In the news story I wrote that day and my podcasts later, I recalled coming to the concourse of the World Trade Center moments after the first plane hit the first tower and seeing shoes scattered everywhere; women ran out of them.

Truly frightening: The disabled were slower to get going and get out and were three times more likely to be injured.

We are about to get a followup survey and they will send specific surveys to residents about their homes, to rescue workers about their masks, and to building survivors about their experience in evacuation. There are papers being prepared n ow on the probable level of post traumatic stress disorder among residents, rescue workers, and survivors; asthma and injuries among child survivors; mask use; and respiratory health of lower Manhattan residents.

: In the Q&A, I asked them to give our doctors guidelines on what to look for in us and to do PR to get the insurance companies to recognize a code for 9/11. They said they are sending out new guidelines to New York doctors; I asked that they send them to Jersey, too. Another registrant asks about the ongoing screenings we should have and how to judge ongoing respiratory problems; he said that he and his neighbors all say they just do not breath as deeply as they did. The person running the evacuation study said they have learned a lot about perparedness and found that most was “unbelievably suboptimal.” She said we were lucky on 9/11 insofar as the World Trade Center were occupied by only 17,000 people who were evacuated when there could have been more than 100,000 people in them.

The true 9/11 memorial

I just read a most wonderful story in The New York Times by Dan Barry about a mother who finally had the courage to look through the laptop owned by her daughter, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. I’m sorry that it is behind the TimesSelect wall but nevermind that. In that laptop, Ann Nelson’s mother found an unfinished list of the 100 things she wanted to accomplish. Barry writes:

36. Learn about wine.

Ann was supposed to attend a wine class the evening of Sept. 11….

After 36, there is a 37, but it is blank.

Mr. Nelson reads the list as an inventory of his daughter’s values. “You don’t see any Corvettes in the garage or any of those material things you might expect from someone that age,” he says. “She recognized that you appreciate a few things and kind of live your life wisely.”

Reading this made me wish that on the fifth anniversary of that day, The Times would return to some of the families who spoke in its Portraits of Grief series and book to see where they are today, to remind us of the individual lives lost, the innocents and heroes of that day. That is the best memorial I can imagine.

That is a more important memorial than the $1 billion it would take to build a huge monument in stone and water at the site of death. It’s not about the place. It’s about the people.