Monday, September 17, 2001

KFWB radio reporting for Monday, September 17th, 2001

The Moment 5:48 AM PDT

At the intersection of Nassau and Liberty Streets, the claustrophobic canyons of Wall Street surrender their only clear view of the wreckage that began its avalanche six days ago, to the minute. The familiar striated metal fascias of the towers are visible from there a seven-story piece, jagged and burnt, sticks out of the ground, where it hit when the towers collapsed. You can see it if and when a gust of wind clears away some of the acrid, hot, fresh smoke from the volcano two blocks to the west.

Already the titans and the minions of Wall Street have seen the groups of two to ten soldiers at every corner, the police cars snaking through the dust-covered streets. Now, a block closer to the Exchange, foot traffic narrows towards barricades. "You got something that shows you work here?" A policeman, all business, asks the question firmly, yet politely. And then he coughs and you notice all the other cops, and the soldiers, and the Red Cross workers, are wearing masks.

It all began exactly six days ago. No one here can guess when it will end.

Security 6:01 AM PDT

As hundreds and hundreds of ex-commuters, now pedestrians, are herded away from City Hall and down Nassau Street, the brokers and financiers can just make out something on the side of the Stock Exchange. The hazy smoke is still too thick to tell what it is. At Nassau and Ann Streets they can begin to taste the dust in their mouths. At John Street, a woman is inside a yogurt shop, trying to get it open. She is wearing a huge face-mask.

By the time the foot traffic narrows at Maiden Lane, half the people who didn't wear masks are improvising: bandanas, handkerchiefs, paper towels even a men's sock, and an American flag. That's when you realize through the haze that the thing hanging from the Exchange is a huge flag. You have not been able to see it for the smoke.

At every intersection, every thirty seconds, someone stops, the press of business be damned. What's left of the Trade Center looms two blocks to the right. The tears do not owe entirely to the smoke.

Stoicism and Reality 6:43 AM PDT

Only a New Yorker would say this: "It should be a pretty smooth opening," according to Curtis Melis. "If there are no bomb threats or building collapses."


Even without them, those who work here have already been sorely tested. Their walk to work is an obstacle course around emergency vehicles, cops, firemen, soldiers and, most jarring of all, twisted pieces of Trade Center metal being slammed into a flat-bed truck at Nassau Street, with a deafening retort. Otherwise there has been silence here this morning: little noise beside the shuffle of feet, itself intermittent as so many stop at every intersection to look two blocks to the west and see the great burning hulk, the thing out of 'War Of The Worlds' what's left of the World Trade Center.

Brooklyn Bridge 7:23 AM PDT

A military Hum-vee backs out onto Wall Street, maneuvering as it does between an electrical company truck and two trailer-sized portable generators. Heads shaking, eyes closed, or red, covering their coughing mouths with a mask, a paper towel, a bandana, a handkerchief, a men's sock, even an American flag, Wall Streeters herded into narrow Nassau Street went back to work against a backdrop totally unlike that which they left, in panic, last Tuesday.

Most seemed to want to avoid the specter two blocks to their right: the ghostly, still-smoking hulk of The Trade Center. But a seven-story tall slice of its façade, twisted like so much iron grating, is beckoning almost irresistibly at the intersection of Liberty Street.

Finally there is this sound or lack of it: The Brooklyn Bridge, closed to all but emergency traffic, and providing another new view of the new New York skyline and the great gap that now defines it.

Recovery And That Which Cannot Be Recovered 8:05 AM PDT

Subway and pedestrian traffic into Wall Street, or the lack thereof, suggests that downtown Manhattan has yet to run its first test at full capacity. And that's a good thing. This part of the city is one half construction zone, one half Sci-Fi film set.

Three blocks from where I stand the wreckage is still startling enough to make stoic New Yorkers gasp. In the smoke still freshly rising from the volcano are the only two pieces most average New Yorkers can yet see the black hulk of the low-rise, Building Seven, the thing that looks like a burned railroad train. That's on the right. On the left, the twisted, seven-story tall chunk of the metal facing of the tower itself, edges jagged and pointed, looking as if it were one of the thunderbolts thrown in Greek Mythology.

And how widespread is the impact of all this? Perhaps this is the answer: it is six days later and still postal service is out, in five different New York zip codes.

Ancient Rome, Modern New York 8:42 AM PDT

It is the 'New York Stare,' and at Liberty and Nassau Streets it is directed at two things. In the foreground, workers are hosing down the century-old façade of the Chamber of Commerce, trying to clean the soot and the ash off its classical columns, designed to evoke ancient Rome. But further down the same street is the sight that makes even the stragglers, late for work, pause, and stare and gape and bring a hand to the mouth. Two blocks to the west, seven or eight floors of The Trade Center's steel fascia, burned, curved, a huge hole in its middle, stands where it landed six days ago.

Unlike the Chamber of Commerce building, there is no "design" required for this sight to invoke antiquity. The twisted, steaming, smoke-shrouded piece of the tower looks like nothing less than the side of the Colosseum in Rome.

Rector Street One 9:42 PM PDT

The reopening of all but the streets directly around The Trade Center has provided the most horrifying view yet. Here at one of New York's oldest intersections Greenwich and Rector is the back-side view, from the south, of what may be the central fire, rising from a depression in the three-story pile of twisted metal, orange, black, and yellow. The smoke is angry and acrid, dirty brown at its origin.

Behind it, part of the Trade Center complex, the outside structure pulled away, the shapes of individual rooms still visible, the floors, buckled by the heat, with that tell-tale sagging so evident at the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. And everywhere, despite the valiant efforts to clean up: the volcanic ash, on windows, on the streets, on mailboxes. And to the left, on some fourth-floor fire escapes, torn pieces of canvas of various sizes, possibly an awning that went up, when the towers came down.

Rector Street Two 11:11 AM PDT

It sticks out from the 16th or 17th floor of The American Express building like a fork stuck in the side of a cake. It is a piece of the metal facing one of the trade towers, that fell like a thunderbolt, ripping a nine-story gash in its southeast corner as easily as you could put a nick in a table when you drag a piece of luggage too close to it.

I don't think this heart-stopping view has been seen before, not even in the aerial video shot Sunday. It is terrifying in its starkness, and compounded by what else can be seen from here: the blown-out windows of the pedestrian crosswalk across West Street, and the remnants of the low-rise buildings that stood next to the towers, their walls sheared off, the interior rooms still visible.

Fortunately, this view is behind the police lines. You don't want to see this if you don't have to.