September 10, 2011 9:27:00 PM
Journey to Manhattan reveals ''world is gone''
Editor''s note: As he relates in this first-person account, William Mauldin, then an undergraduate at Yale and former Dispatch intern, hopped a train to Manhattan on the afternoon of 9-11. Mauldin is a reporter for Dow Jones based in Moscow. This report ran on Pg. 1 of the Sept. 14, 2001 Dispatch.
By William Mauldin
NEW YORK -- "The world is not here -- it''s gone," shouted a drunken man as he passed me about a mile from where the World Trade Center once stood.
I had received news of the terrorist attacks just minutes before leaving the dormitory to attend my morning classes in New Haven, Conn., which is about an hour and a half from New York by car or train.
Not knowing any of the details, I tried to push Tuesday''s events out of my mind, but I nevertheless found it almost impossible to concentrate on my classes.
I soon realized what I needed to do. When I got out of class in the afternoon I changed clothes, grabbed a notebook and pencil from my room and headed for the railroad station.
Everyone had told me it would be impossible to travel to New York. They told me the bridges to Manhattan Island were closed and that all train and bus service had been suspended.
I had tried to look up train schedules on the Internet, but the website was clogged with electronic traffic. Phone lines were hopelessly busy.
When I arrived at the train station, the ticket agent told me that all Amtrak trains were canceled but that there was a Metro-North commuter train leaving at 4:55 p.m. for Grand Central Terminal in New York. I pulled out my wallet to pay for the ticket, but he said it was "on the house."
When I boarded the almost empty train, the conductor made a special announcement:
"Ladies and gentlemen, please be advised that although Metro-North can bring you to New York, travel within the city is very limited."
All the bridges and tunnels to Manhattan were closed to all vehicles except ambulances and fire trucks. Trains from Long Island were being stopped at the city limits. My train from Connecticut halted in the Bronx to pick up some emergency workers and carry them across the river to Manhattan.
After the train crossed the river and before it went underground, I caught a glimpse of a distant cloud covering much of downtown.
My train arrived at Grand Central at 6:40 p.m., and I was immediately surprised by how few people were moving through the building, which normally handles half a million passengers a day. All the fancy shops in the station were closed, and all garbage cans were covered with plastic, presumably to prevent someone from placing a bomb in one of them.
To make my way downtown I had to take a roundabout series of subway trains, many of which were not operating on their normal routes. Finally I reached what must have been the southernmost stop of any of the subway lines operating that night in Manhattan.
Soon I was on the street walking south, but I quickly found that most of the streets of Lower Manhattan were blocked by police. The only people they let pass were emergency personnel and neighborhood residents who could prove their address with a driver''s license or other form of identification.
After walking in circles without managing to get past the roadblock, I finally stumbled into Chinatown and was able to slip past a barricade with a group of Chinese people.
The closer I got to the scene of the disaster, the darker it grew, partly because the sun was setting and partly because power was out in many downtown buildings. Some of the narrow, winding streets in the oldest part of the city were so dark that I could not even read the street signs. Many street corners were illuminated with pink flares.
I could get within two or three blocks of the World Trade Center before the police absolutely refused to let me pass.
At that point I was downwind from the collapsed buildings. Everyone around me, including residents and police, were wearing dust masks because of the smoke. Streets, sidewalks, trees and abandoned cars were all covered with a quarter inch of gray dust and ash, not unlike a fine, filthy snow. Charred papers from the collapsed towers littered the street, and some appeared still to be falling from the sky.
I talked with many who had seen the buildings collapse, and they all pointed and showed me where the skyscrapers had stood hours before.
The most dramatic scenes from the disaster are available to everyone on television, but neither words nor pictures can convey what it feels like to walk through the dark, abandoned streets at nightfall just yards away from the place where thousands of people had died the same day.
Before leaving New York I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, which was closed to all traffic except pedestrians and emergency vehicles. Perched high above the river, I took in a panoramic view of the world''s greatest city, marred only by the smoking gap in the downtown skyline.
The loss of a few buildings is nothing compared to the loss of so many lives. For those of us who survived the attacks, life will go on. But no one will ever forget what happened on the worst day of the new millennium.