9-11 witnesses recall shock, horror
“Your mother was there when 9-11 happened.”
Ten years ago Sunday, Bassler was in a New York City subway train car virtually underneath the World Trade Center when it was attacked and destroyed.
She wasn’t hurt but the only way home to her Brooklyn apartment was to walk back through the cloud of smoke and rubble and thousands of zombie-like fellow witnesses to history.
Astoundingly, another young Rockdale resident witnessed the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on that historic day.
Susanne Hudson, now Susanne Jones, watched the Pentagon burn from the terrace of the office building in which she worked.
In less than a year she had moved to New York City and befriended a number of persons who lost relatives or loved ones in the 9-11 attacks.
SUBWAY—Bassler, a 1999 RHS graduate and now a Houston resident, was attending classes at Long Island University and was on the way to an LIU class at Grand Central Station Sept. 11, 2001, when the unthinkable happened.
Her subway train was stuck for 30 to 45 minutes under the WTC, then continued on to the chaos of the Wall Street stop.
“People began rushing onto the train and telling us what had happened,” she recalled.
The train went on to Grand Central Station where she disembarked.
“It’s like an airport and there were televisions all around,” she said. “So at that point pretty much everyone knew what was going on.”
When the second plane hit, it became obvious what was going on was no accident.
“It’s funny but I remember driving in to work on Sept. 11, 2001, that it was such a beautiful day,” she said. “It was one of those perfect fall days you sometimes get on the East Coast.”
When she got to work, a receptionist informed her that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.
“ We all assumed it was an accident,” she said. “We didn’t really think in terms of terrorism then.”
But when the second plane hit, followed by reports a plane had crashed into the Pentagon, perceptions changed forever.
“We went up on the terrace of our building,” Jones said. “We could see the smoke from the Pentagon.”
Then they were evacuated and told to go home.
PHONE CALLS—Astoundingly, when Bassler reached Grand Central Station, she found out her LIU professor was going to hold an hour-long class about trains anyway.
But, 45 minutes into the session, station officials informed the class that the Pentagon had been hit.
And that triggered some hysterics. “ Two of the girls in the class had fathers who worked in the Pentagon,” Bassler said.
Within 15 minutes Grand Central was evacuated.
Somehow, Bassler was managing to stay in contact with her family in Rockdale.
“I had a Nextel cell phone and I found out later that Nextel was the only company that did not have a communications tower on top of the World Trade Center,” she said.
In fact, Kathie Bassler, Briana’s mom, was able to get in touch with her daughter while Briana was still on the subway.
LONG WALK— But what now?
“ There was no public transportation going,” she said. “The only thing we could do was walk from Grand Central back home to Brooklyn.”
Of course that meant going back through the dust and smoke cloud and the chaos created when the buildings collapsed.
“It was surreal,” Bassler said. “Everyone was in a daze, in shock. There was debris everywhere and just thousands and thousands of people on foot.”
And her cell phone still worked. One of the calls she made during that surreal walk home was to Reporter writer Christine Granados in Rockdale.
“There’s a lot of traffic coming from the World Trade Center, but only fire trucks and ambulances going toward it,” she said.
She finally made it to the Manhattan Bridge and across the East River.
NYC—Ironically, Jones ended up spending more time in New York City than did Bassler.
After completing her school work, Bassler said she has been back to the city “a handful of times” since 9-11.
Jones, who said she had always wanted to live in New York City, did so during 2002, not long after the horrific events.
“I think that’s where the full horror of what happened sunk in, even more than standing on that terrace watching the Pentagon burn,” she said.
“In New York, I had friends and co-workers who had lost family members in the towers,” Jones said. “You could just see it in their eyes.”
From the vantage point of 10 years Jones, who now lives in Plano, has tried to put her “witness to history” experience in perspective.
“ You’ve got to move on, you can’t live in fear,” she said. “But you can’t forget it either. We’ve got to remember what happened and tell future generations about it.”
PSYCHE—Bassler has a similar view. She has moved on but she will never forget that fall day 10 years ago when she had an unexpected first-hand view of one of history’s signal events.
“Of course it’s going to affect you,” she said. “It’s such a traumatic event. I don’t believe anyone could be that close to so many people dying and not have it make an impact on your psyche.”
More 9-11 reminscences, columns, pages 4A and 5A, photos, essay, 6C.