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The city has never been this quiet’

[9/12/2001] Disaster. Tremendous courage. Heartbreak. Loss. Unimaginable shock.

These are among the words being spoken throughout the vast regions of New York City.

It was eerily quiet last night and this morning in Manhattan. Quite the opposite of yesterday morning when disaster struck the southern tip of the west side of the city.

By 9:15 a.m., there was the endless sounds of police, firetruck and ambulance sirens and the buzz of helicopters.

The scene from the rooftop of our building on Horatio Street, which is two blocks from the Hudson River and about a mile from the World Trade Center site, was horrific. None of us will forget the huge crater in No. 2 World Trade Center when initial reports said that a small commuter aircraft crashed into the northern building of the 1,250-foot twin towers.

As neighbors sipped coffee and ate breakfast rolls, we heard a noise. From where we were, it sounded like a truck backfiring. As we are on the edge of what is called the Meat Packing District, we are very used to those noises.

But when a neighbor looked up and said, “The World Trade Center is on fire!,” well, it was incredible.

Words cannot describe the horror on our faces as we saw flames shooting from the building’s upper reaches (about 1,000 feet in the air). Or the even more indescribable reaction as we saw the silhouette of a large jet appear crossing the Hudson River and semi-circle the No. 1 tower, bank to the left and dive into the northwestern corner of a floor. I cannot find words to describe the feeling of seeing those flames cascading upward from what was said to be a floor in the 80s through the 110th floor.

Oddly, the impact of that second plane was silent to us.

The moment was surreal, as if you were in your worst nightmare with no sound.

In fact, it was our worst nightmare.

I was speaking on a cordless phone to former Vicksburger Ron Foley and then to my brother, John Nassour of Vicksburg, when the southernmost building imploded. A few minutes later, absolute disbelief as the pieces of the northern structure facade buckled and began falling off, followed by that building imploding.

The description of the disaster from a friend working in his corner office of a brokerage on Greenwich Street, about 2,000 feet away from the towers has made me realize that this is an event we will never be able to erase from our memory. Like Pearl Harbor, like the 1953 Vicksburg tornado, it will leave an indelible memory of exactly where we were and what we were doing when all hell broke loose.

My friend, who was helping with an orderly evacuation of his offices after the first impact, said seeing “that second jet coming in at such speed and going through the tower like a bullet” had him weeping and trembling.

The planes literally ripped through the center steel supports and the central sections of the building began falling on top of each other. Amazingly, according to those who were able to get out, the stairwells on the edges of the structure were intact and provided an escape route.

It is said that the planes were carrying some 10,000 gallons of jet fuel and that the ensuing inferno was in excess of 16,000 degrees.

This morning, as one looks at video of the twisted steel and rubble of the destroyed twin towers and other buildings, it is reminiscent of pictures of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb, London and Berlin after the blitzes of World War II, or scenes after an earthquake. Debris and ash has been windblown for miles.

Tales of heroism about police, firefighters, rescue team members are being told everywhere, and some survivors are, this morning, being dug from voids of the collapse and the lower basements.

At nearby St. Vincent’s Hospital, there are lines of volunteer blood donors, but the impact of the as yet unknown death toll is foretold in the number of doctors, nurses and support staff outside the Emergency Room, standing adjacent to empty gurneys.

New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who narrowly escaped death when the second tower collapsed as he met with emergency services in a bunker at 7 World Trade Center, promised, “We will rebuild and come out of this stronger than before. Emotionally stronger, politically stronger, financially stronger.”

The city, south of 14th Street on the West Side, is closed except to essential traffic. Even residents going to the supermarkets or to purchase hard-to-find newspapers have to show I.D. at the 14th Street crossings.

You stop at the corner to cross and suddenly realize the streets are virtually empty. The city has never been this quiet. But there is compassion everywhere.

One must wonder what this devastation has accomplished for the madmen who planned it. I have long felt that the United States is the best friend the various factions in the Middle East has.

One thing for certain are the words being spoken by almost everyone in the nation: Our lives in the United States have changed for all time.