September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document

Story:Here is my eyewitness account of the destruction of the WTC on 9/11. THis story was originally published in the Tnt Mirror newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago:

World Trade Center catastrophe:
Muslims under siege

By
Fiaz Shuayb
(copyright 2001)

New York, Sept.12 - A loud explosion interrupted my class in logic four stories up a City University of New York (CUNY) building, two blocks away from the World Trade Centers twin towers.
It was around 9 am.
The boom was followed minutes after by screaming sirens coming from all directions.
It jolted our concentration on diagramming of logical arguments.
I shrugged off the noisy disturbance, trying to stay focused on our professor.
However, one curious Latino female student somehow sensed something awry and went outside into the corridor.
She ran back into the classroom seconds later, shouting that school security had ordered evacuation of the entire seven-story building.
Nevertheless, nothing prepared us for the scene outside.
Hundreds of students milled into the universitys compound below gasping Oh my God! Oh My God! as we stared at the horrific scene of the 110-storey high World Trade Center engulfed in a raging inferno with huge gaping holes in the uppermost floors.
Everyone stood in shocked disbelief at the fiery scenario.
It was a strange experience I shared with many otherswe were looking at something simply too incredible to be true, or what we were witnessing was actually happening but somehow we were not really in front of it.
My first bits of news of the incident came from students in contact with others by phone or by radios.
Everyone was bewildered.
Some thought it was a bomb explosion; others said a couple of planes had crashed into the buildings.
Several students were scared and crying, many frantically trying to call home on their cellular phones.
A Ghanaian student, a Christian, found me out in the crowd:
This is what America gets for supporting Israel, he whispered.
Didnt you hear what [Vice-President] Dick Cheney said last week on the media? (that) the Palestinians are deserving of the type of military response from Israel.
I looked at him, my face expressionless, thinking to myself that I do not see how two wrongs make a rightregardless of who was responsible for this attack.
I strained my ears at other comments being offered.
One student groaned: Why did this have to happen? Why cant we learn to live in peace? The question was rhetorical.
We have to return to prayer and to God, another said.
We witnessed in horror as at least three bodies fell from one of the burning towers some 90 stories up!
Just like in the movies, it seemed.
We were not sure whether they had jumped or had fallen off dead.
Female students screamed and pointed to the plunging bodies.
It was a calmly, gruesome scene I will never forget, which sent chills down my spine.
When college security finally signaled to evacuate the area, hundreds of students linked up with thousands of people already in the streets, forming a somber exodus out of lower Manhattan, the financial center of the world with its symbols of American economic might in smoldering ruins.
It was a chaotic scene for transportation as taxis and buses were few and all subway train lines leading out of Manhattan to the other boroughs completely shut down.
I joined tens of thousands of people on a trek to find the nearest route out of Manhattan, to be far away from the disaster area as possible.
Poring over my subway map the nearest other subway stations appeared to be along Broadway Avenue.
Most people seemed headed in that direction.
Merely several hundred meters away from the horrific scene when suddenly we heard a terrific sound and felt a tremor, looking back to see one tower come crashing down in a stupendous cloud of dust and rubble.
Just like in the movies, it seemedan action scene straight out of Independence Day when aliens blew up the Empire State building in New York.
Pandemonium reigned for a few minutes as people ran literally for their lives on the sidewalks as well as in the middle of the road oblivious to oncoming traffic, speeding ambulances and police cars.
My heart skipped some beats, my mouth parched, and my legs, which seemed to have a mind of its own, felt heavy and refused to run fast enough.
This was real life imitating art.
However, for the most part, people on the move never became a mob, or a stampede, or a frenetic crowd, which might have led to quite a few people being trampled to death under the thicket of such a crowd.
I found that calmness amazing, remembering my own experience of the 1990 coup attempt in Port of Spain and how quickly segments of the Trini citizenry had converted into looting hordes, wreaking havoc to businesses.
Perhaps New Yorkers were in denial; perhaps the reality had not struck home; perhaps it was just like in the movies, it seemed.
Further along Broadway, commercial life of New York went on unfazed. Consumers were piled into restaurants, shopping, or standing in the streets looking toward the direction of thick, gray smoke billowing from where the famous World Trade Center used to be.
For several miles along the street, all of the subway stations remained shut. Some people hanged around hoping it would reopen soon but most continued on to Grand Central Station, one of the main transit subway centers.
It was the same situation there--no trains available--at least for commuters heading out to Brooklyn and Queens.
I met a college colleague there, a part-time pilot, who told me he saw how it all happened.
I was at Battery Park, Stuversant, when suddenly I heard the sound of an airplane and saw what looked liked a DC 10 plane flying very low; then I saw it smash into one of the World Trade Center building and burst into a huge ball of flame, he said.
The crowd near me also saw the explosion and started running in that direction to get a closer view.
The ground shook and many people were in tears.
Then we saw another plane crashed into the other tower and, as we watched, we saw some 13 people falling off from the towerÂ…it was incredible but my main concern now is how to get out of Manhattan.
It was 11 am.
After asking around it appeared the only and easiest route to Queens would be across the long Queensborough bridge and from there, hopefully some of the lines or buses would be running.
It was a spectacle to see the march of so many people from so many different walks of life trudge along the long suspended bridge in stifling midday heat.
If there were any anger, resentment, or hatred for any group identified with the perpetratorsguilt by association--they were muttered under the breath or were the last thing on peoples minds.
People seemed preoccupied with the arduous task of getting home presumably, where it is safer.
I reached home at 4pm, tired, hungry, with a splitting headache but grateful to Allah for bringing us home safely.
As events unfolded during the rest of the day, and the biggest question on the nations mind is who did this or was behind it, fears quickly arose in the Muslim community about the strong possibility of vengeance against them out of anger, hatred, and prejudice.
An early press release, a couple of hours after the tragedy, by the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a prominent Islamic advocacy, reported several threats already received by Muslims and advised the community to keep a low profile.
These reports were confirmed by the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/12/nyregion/12RELA.html).
The release condemned the attack in strong language and urged Muslims to identify with the pain and suffering of the nation by donating blood and other offers of assistance.
In the first few days following the 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma, Muslims reported more than 200 incidents of harassment, threats, and actual violence. The culprit then turned out to be Timothy McVeigh.
Sensitive to negative stereotyping of Muslim groups, New York leaders moved swiftly to warn citizens and residents not to translate their understandable anger into vengeance against other minority groups based on religion or ethnicity as a scapegoat for the action of terrorists.
The Governor of New York George Pataki urged people to respect the rights of each other and convert their anger into positive action in returning normalcy to life.
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani announced at a press briefing that the Muslim community was assured of extra protection and that anyone found trying to take the law into his hands would be arrested.
As a precaution against possible reprisal attacks, the giant K-Mart pulled all guns and weapons from sale throughout its chain of stores nationwide.
At the time of writing, a Muslim female was reportedly shot in Flushing, Queens, another stabbed, and several Islamic websites shut down due to hate e-mails.
I watched the headline news on television and the Internet blare chilling headlines, such as It is undoubtedly the worst peacetime attack, ever, on a single nation, and the largest-scale terrorist attack in history spread through the world, to name a few.
They were not exaggerating. I was there. This day changed the world forever.


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