‘I’m fine. I watched the whole thing’

In News /

By Sutton Eaves

Rye journalism students witness attack on NYC first hand – the United States’ darkest hour

Kareen Madian had just crossed the George Washington bridge out of New York City and into New Jersey last Tuesday morning when she heard the news. The CNBC intern was sitting beside her producer about 9 a.m. when his cell phone rang. With the unbelievable news that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Centre, Madian craned her neck around to try and catch a glimpse of the towers but she didn’t fully understand what was happening until she arrived at work.

“There were people literally running around, and there were others frozen in their spot, watching the TVs. Some were near tears and most were in shock. You couldn’t believe you were seeing what you were seeing – it was like Armageddon.” Madian was one of three Ryerson journalism students completing internships in New York, along with Magdalene McCalla and Maria Janchenko. All three witnessed the effects of Tuesday’s devastating attack first hand. McCalla was on the subway when she first noticed something was wrong. At what she thinks was Wall Street station, only minutes away from the World Trade Centre stop, a mass of people poured into her train, looking for safety inside the cars moving metal walls. Some were coated in dust and plaster that rose from their hair and clothes in little clouds as they searched frantically for a seat.

All McCalla understood was that “a building had fallen” somewhere above. When she got to work she realized, as Madian did, just what had happened while she was safe below ground. Like most of her co-workers, she abandoned her regular tasks, and helped out with the live coverage of the attack. “All hell had broken loose at CBS. I normally work upstairs for the Saturday morning show, but they asked me to come downstairs and help with the daytime report. It was crazy.”

South of where McCalla was working, in Lower Manhattan, Madian’s roommate Christine Jabal was walking to her office at the One Liberty building, directly across the street from the World Trade Centre. Just before nine o’clock, she got off the unusually slow train one stop early and began to walk – that’s when she heard a plane strike the World Trade Centre. Still a ways from her office and the attack, Jabal continued to walk, not fully aware of what was happening. Few people seemed to grasp the enormity of the blast they had heard moments earlier.

Eighteen minutes later – and 10 blocks closer – Jabal saw the flames and smoke as yet another airplane exploded into the side of the second World Trade Centre tower. All around her, people began to run in every direction except south. Men in two-piece suits and wingtip shoes ran through the streets, some picking up children and carrying them over their shoulders. Strangers grabbed arms, elbows, and led each other to safety behind parked cars. Briefcases and back packs were abandoned as people tried to gain speed, in turn gaining safety. Ash and office debris from the towers was now landing on the streets below. Sheets of paper filled the air like confetti.

Following the frightened crowd, Jabal ran from the blast. Shoes, baby carriages and other belongings sent from the blast flew past her, landing in her path and causing her to trip. When she got up, a body, thrown from the burning tower high above, landed at her feet. Terrified, Jabal continued to run, her stylish heels slipping on the paper and ash underfoot. Cars honked and screeched, swerving around pedestrians as they too tried to flee the scene. In a desperate attempt, Jabal got into a woman’s car and begged for help. “Please,” she said. “I’ll even ride in your trunk. Please, just drive me.” The woman agreed and the two drove to safety.

Back in Toronto it was sometime after nine o’clock, and Mary Sheppard was listening to the CBC radio morning show from her office at home, unaware of what was happening 800 kilometres away. The Ryerson broadcast instructor received a call from her husband, who quickly told her to turn on the television and see – America was under attack. Sheppard immediately thought of her three students in New York. “I was rattled like everyone else, but also very conscious that we had students there.” Then she e-mailed the girls, saying “I need to know you’re okay. Let me know as soon as you can.” Madian replied within the hour, as did Janchenko, who said the following: “I’m fine. Just spooked. I watched the whole thing live and things are scary around here. Still don’t believe what we see…Very busy here.”

No one had heard from the third student, McCalla, until around five o’clock that night. In New Jersey, Madian took calls from desperate family members to see if they knew anything about their loved ones. “I got calls from reporters, reporters’ families, everyone. A woman called and asked me if her son, who worked at the World Trade Centre, was okay – she didn’t know who else to call. I looked and figured out where her son worked and it was the 105th floor. I couldn’t tell her that – I wanted to cry.”

At CBS, McCalla remembers going to the control room to hand out the latest bulletin and catching a glimpse of the televisions. “I just remember looking at that TV and seeing people, masses of people, jumping out of the building. Until that point I had only seen footage of the building being hit – it was totally different seeing the people involved.” All three Ryerson students were uninjured, and, with the exception of McCalla, are continuing their internships. But, Madian said, nothing will be the same. “When I look out my apartment window, there is a hole where the twin towers once stood. It’s sad and kind of creepy.” Madian returned home this weekend for her sisters wedding. She brought along her distraught roommate whose mother met them at the border. “They both started crying when they saw each other,” said Madian. “And Christine just said to me ‘I am so grateful to you for bringing me home’.”

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