Today, 16 years ago, we arrived at Giant Stadium in New Jersey, where all incoming assistance was supposed to meet. The New Jersey State Police were waiting, there was hardly anyone there, otherwise. They escorted us to their command center where stacks of food had already begun to rise above the heads of everyone. “Want cheese cake?” asked one Trooper,”We have like 30 of them.” He said with a sarcastic smile.
We were escorted through the NYC to the Jacob Javitz center by a trooper, the streets were empty. We were told that because we had the typical blue lights found on a lot of Virginia cars, we would be ignored. NYC people ignore the blue lights because only the civilian police assistants have blue lights.
We arrived at the Jacob Javitz center where all volunteers were supposed to check in. No other first responders were at our table, the table for civilians wrapped around several blocks and extended as far as I could see. There was also a huge pile of food gathering where donations were being received. “Tuscan dried tomato and herb focaccia” was the one pile of bread I noticed. I had never heard of such bread, but it seemed appropriate for a NYC donation.
We were told where to go for further information. When we arrived at Greenwich and Warren, we were met scenes of managed chaos. We let the dogs out and they made indication “Here is the death.” A man approached us with a plate of food. “Thank you for coming! Here!” He handed us homemade tuna fish sandwiches. We thanked him as he ran off, not wanting to refuse such generosity. Then we threw them away because we had no idea who he was or what he had given us.
I went into Public School 234 to use the restroom. It was dark, people bustling about, water on the floors mixed with dust and happy little kid crayola pictures of the sun over trees, or the park with a dog. Pictures of smiling kids and parents, with hand written notes “Mommy” and “Sonya.”
I went back out and my supervisor had tried to talk to a number of white shirts, but we kept being passed on. I could see the façade of building 7 smoldering with heavy equipment trying to lift up portions of it in the background. Finally we found where the Office of Emergency Management was and made our way there.
I had to be restrained. As we walked to OEM, we would see human carrion eaters picking through the dust and papers looking for credit card and cancelled checks. I yelled at the first couple and my supervisor calmed me, telling me there was nothing we could do. I had seen fighting, bloody death, and the sort, but this hit me so viscerally. People feasting on the death and destruction around them.
We arrived at OEM and they told us to go to Battery Park where the New York State Police K9 unit was staged with the Connecticut State Police K9 unit. We walked back to the truck and tried to get there.
West Street was a madhouse. Between first responder vehicles and heavy equipment trucks, it looked nearly impossible. I found a route driving on the sidewalks around the park and behind Stuyvesant High School. We arrived at the park to a less than welcoming look.
“Why are you here?” asked the dusty and tired looking Sergeant.
We told him we responded to a teletype request for canine’s and explained our path. At the mention of the teletype, he visibly relaxed.
“Sorry to be so brusque, we have already had a number of “K9″ handlers show up and just walk into the pit. Thanks for coming.” and he introduced us around.
We went to Stuyvesant High School, added our names to the list of volunteers, checked in with the appropriate teams, and got a meal. It was already dark by the time we finished and walked back to the truck. We offered to stay on site so the rest could leave after all of their hard first day.
We slept on the granite floor of the pavilion to the sounds of heavy equipment, the yells of the 24 hour work, and the constant beep of machines backing up.
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