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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tenth Anniversary

Nothing I can say can do justice to the sense of loss and the outrage sparked by the terrorist attacks on the USA ten years ago today. It was a tragedy and a direct assault on our values and our democracy that changed the world as we know it.

As with so many momentous events in World history I, along with so many others can remember where I was when I heard the news. It was the penultimate week in the by-election to replace the late Val Feld as Assembly Member for Swansea East. I had just come back to the Welsh Liberal Democrat by-election headquarters in Morriston after delivering some leaflets and the whole team was gathered around the television watching the news, stunned and in silence. I left to go home, where I spent the rest of the afternoon watching events unfold.

I remember that just over a week later I attended the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth, where the American Ambassador was holding a reception. There was talk of it being cancelled but it went ahead in a specially erected tent at the side of the Conference hotel, whilst helicopters flew overhead and armed police patrolled the streets.

It was a surreal Conference and an experience that I hope is never repeated.
My recollections of “9-11”

I was living on the 42nd floor in a corner apartment in downtown Chicago, two blocks or so west of the tallest building in America, Sears Tower (since renamed Willis Tower).

As was often the case I would ring my mum in Splott to check on her so there I was getting ready for work with the television on but muted so that I could talk to mum on the phone. I was running late and was in a hurry to leave for work (Chicago is an hour behind East Coast time and six hours behind UK/Welsh time) which believe it or not merely involved a short walk to the apartment building’s elevators, going down 42 floors and then walking across the street to take an escalator and elevator to the 38th floor to my workplace where I was given a lovely office facing east so I could see O’Hare International Airport located north east of downtown where I could just make out airliners landing and taking off.

My home was a corner apartment on the 42nd floor of luxurious Presidential Towers just across the street from my work building and faced west and south so I had a great view of Sears Tower, the White Sox stadium and Chicago’s second airport, Midway Airport.

As it turned out mum wasn’t at home that morning so I rang her best friend but she wasn’t there so I figured she was on her way there and left a message so that she would know I had tried to ring her that morning. I remember switching my TV off but I did not see the unraveling disaster in lower Manhattan that a large airliner had hit one of the WTC towers.

Five minutes later I was at work and heading for the firm’s diner – the firm had kitted out a canteen that resembled a high-end American diner. I had started drinking coffee and there was always a jug of regular on a large coffee maker. But the firm’s office manager was pouring the hot coffee right down the sink so there was none to drink. I asked her why she was doing that I replied something like: “Haven’t your heard? A plane has struck the world trade center in New York”

I immediately went to the main conference room kitted out with a TV and there was another guy there watching the inferno as the Towers burned. Then unbelievable happened, one of the WTC towers collapsed. I seem to recall that one of my best friends in the office had a son who was at Morgan Stanley doing training in one of the WTC towers, but as it turned out he was not in the building on that day having returned to Morgan Stanley’s office in Chicago just the week before. So he was safe home. But his mum was distraught and I heard had left the office in tears – in her mind she had nearly lost her only son.

I rushed back to my apartment to ring mum to let her know that Sear’s Tower was not hit (at this time one of United Airlines (UAL) flight was missing, I think it took off from Dulles airport near Washington, DC and was heading west across the USA). People thought it was heading for Sears Tower in part because United Airlines main hub was in Chicago.

I could not get hold of mum as the international phone lines were down; why Chicago long distance calls to the UK were down I did not understand, but mum was also ringing me from her friend’s house in Splott and I learned later that mum was in a bit of a state not being able to speak to me on the phone, she knew I lived/worked just a short distance from Sears Tower. The weirdest moment for me was watching Sears Tower and expecting the missing airliner to crash into it, and from another lounge window (I had a corner apartment).

Life was never going to be the same in America and it wasn’t.
sometimes (if not every time) I should read what I type quickly, e.g., "...and from another lounge window (I had a corner apartment) should have read: "... and from another lounge window I could see airliners land at Midway but none were taking off; a national order had gone out to land every civilian plain in the USA." cw
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