Tuesday, September 11, 2001

KFWB radio reporting for Tuesday, September 11th, 2001

Beginning 12:42 PM PDT

This is what those of us who have ever called Southern California home have had nightmares about - these are the images of 'the big one.'

Look uptown and you will see the first pretty Fall day. Half a dozen trees in the park turning, the weather crystal clear and the traffic light.

Look downtown and you will see a vision of hell. I worked in the World Trade Center from 1981 to 1984. You must imagine it for what it is - the biggest sports arena you've ever seen, The Staples Center perhaps, only ten times as big. If fatalities do not reach five figures it will be a miracle.

The Red Cross center is literally across the street from where I live and I am standing on the plaza before it; it is crowded and has been since early this morning. They are turning would-be blood donors away - other than those with negative blood types or type 'O' - asking them to come back tonight. Or tomorrow. Or next week. They will still be needed.

It seems as if everything that could create a crowd has been canceled, postponed, rescheduled. The malls are closed on Long Island. The subways. The mayoral primary. The ballgames.

There is no panic buying. The stores are a little more crowded and the edginess to this city, its infamous fuel of irritation, is just a little closer to the surface. Phone service is sporadic; impossible to get a long-distance call out, pretty good within the city.

I think of my father's stories of having been in the neighborhood the day the Empire State Building was hit by a B-25 bomber during the second world war. It was his 16th birthday. He said the impact, 70 stories above him, nearly knocked him to the ground. That plane was so small; there were only three people aboard. The fire shot upwards briefly but everything was repaired within weeks. My father said it has stayed with him all his life, as this surely must stay with us throughout ours.

It is so much quieter than it should be. Yet periodically a fighter jet or a military chopper streaks past. And those sirens - police, fire, ambulance, EMS - have not stopped, not for a second, not since 9 this morning.

They are all headed downtown.

Empty City 2:35 PM PDT

It will be getting dark soon but here in Times Square, Broadway will not light up, nor the ballparks, nor almost any places where this most crowded of cities crowds together. These sites are no longer 'places.' They are now 'potential targets.'

There are crowds here - in saloons, in restaurants - but not where you'd expect them. The downtown streets are deserted. The crosstown streets are deserted. It is the middle of rush hour.

Of the smoldering black dream at the other end of this island there is only hope. Everyone seems to have a story of a friend who lived to tell of a harrowing escape from the World Trade Center. One friend's smile turned to tears: "As he was getting out," he said of his friend, "thirty firemen were going in. That's when the second plane hit."

How many rescue workers, how many medical personnel, became victims?

That question is perhaps foremost among New Yorkers at this hour. Shock still abounds. And grief. And anger. Yet the only reports of public trouble here are of altercations - the tourist or the young or the buoyant will make a joke or laugh loudly, and someone who has seen the horror at the Trade Center, will tell them to shut up. Then they will point downtown and their complaint is understood - and the laughter stops.

Tomas Reyes 3:32 PM PDT

I am in Central Park, near the children's playground, on a much needed search for the affirmation of life, on what would be a perfectly normal late afternoon, were this a Sunday in August.

Now will begin the chilling, heart-stopping stories. Here's one of them.

Tomas Reyes considers himself the luckiest man in New York tonight. He would not have said so as he reported to work today as the men's room attendant in a midtown Manhattan restaurant. He was fired two weeks ago, laid off from his job as a junior stockbroker. His old bosses, his friends, were letting him use their office to track down job leads, so he was still going in, every day - every day except when he had a shift handing out towels in a restaurant toilet - like today.

So he didn't go to that office, on the 46th floor of One World Trade Center. He has been calling his former colleagues all day from a pay phone outside the restroom. There has been no answer. He assumes they are all dead. He told me about an hour ago that right now for him, the men's room is heaven.

Sirens 6:02 PM PDT

This, normally, is a city of sirens, a cacophony of alarms.

Usually the sounds of fire engines, police cars, ambulances, merge into one nondescript noise, meaningless except to those personally involved, "The 9-1-1 chorus," if you will.

Not so tonight. On the 11th day of the 9th month, 9-1-1, the sirens began at 8:45 AM and have not ceased. And they are individual sounds, echoing now through eerily deserted streets; each wail, one instinctively knows, telling another in a mortifying parade of individual human tragedies - certainly hundreds upon hundreds, probably thousands upon thousands.

At the moment President Bush began to speak this evening, this city got discernibly quieter. When he said thousands had been killed, the city shuddered. For we, in this city, are afraid. Not afraid, necessarily, of further attacks - police are everywhere, conspicuous but calm and reassuring. We are afraid of a number. How many are lost? How many lie beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center?

There is still a small crowd outside Red Cross headquarters here at 66th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. New Yorkers, the nation's tough guys, waiting to help, waiting to give blood. Against the background of the unnerving quiet, other than the murmurs between these people - among the very few still out of doors - there are almost no sounds here.

Except for the sirens... following one after the other... reverberating into the night.