Vivian Talambiras-Cruz, New Jersey
I was on a phone
conversation with my colleague in Vienna, when we were interrupted by a call
from my best friend from the Philippines. Her first words were "How's
Frank?" My immediate response was, "Huh?"
She said that she was watching CNN, and that there was a fire at the World Trade Center. I tried then to contact Frank on his cell and office phones but there was no service. Just then, friends from all over started calling me trying to reach me at home, and friends from the UN came to my office asking about Frank. Only then did I realize the seriousness of the situation and I started to pray.
My son Francis, on the other hand, then a freshman at Seton Hall University, heard it on the radio on his way to school and made a decision to turn around to pick up his younger brother, Matthew, from his classroom. He then decided to wait at home and periodically checked with me if I had heard from their dad.
After a while an announcement was made that the UN had to be evacuated because there was a rumor that it would be the next target. While everyone else left, I made a firm decision to stay. Perhaps I was the only one in my building who did so. My sister kept calling me from the Philippines, pleading with me to leave the building; but I explained to her that I wanted to stay because that might be my only chance to hear from Frank.
An hour or two went by and after not hearing any word from Frank I decided to go down to the lobby, explaining to the security detail my situation and why I needed to stay. He fully understood. I decided to walk to Port Authority hoping to catch a bus that would take me home to my two sons only to find out that all the tunnels had been closed. On my way, I stopped by a store where people were huddled in front of television sets for the news. I decided to buy a small hand-held TV to try and get the news, with the hope that somehow, I would find Frank among the crowd that they were showing on TV.
As I walked back to my building, it was like a scene from a war movie as people were walking like zombies, in a daze and with frozen expressions in their faces. I will never forget that scene for as long as I live. I continued to walk amid the chaos and as I was approaching my building, lo and behold, my beloved Frank was there waiting for me.
We hugged each other tight, and it was such a happy reunion. We then took the car out of the UN garage. Not knowing where to pass with closed tunnels and blocked roads, I felt as if an invisible spirit was with us in the car, guiding us as we approached the George Washington Bridge. We were able to cross the bridge on our way to New Jersey and we found out later that we were one of the last to cross before it was closed.
We got to New Jersey to the cheers of our wonderful neighbors who were waiting in front of our house. There were our two boys, only too happy to see their dad. As Frank recalled, it took him 45 minutes on the stairwell to get out of the building. As he managed to get out, he was met by police officers ordering him not to look up. But out of curiosity, he looked and saw that the upper portion of the building was on fire. Just eight minutes after he got out, he heard a loud noise, like falling dominoes. When he looked back again, he saw billowing smoke engulfing the whole place, and Tower One was completely gone.
Truly, he had a guardian angel watching over him. He recalled that he saw NYC firemen going up the stairwell as they were going down, and he said they broke into vending machines to give these firemen drinks. Sometimes he thinks about them and how they met their fate. They were young, they were old. They were husbands, fathers, sons. Frank prays for them whenever he thinks of them. These firemen died trying to save lives, and their faces are vivid in Frank's mind.
A week after the tragedy, our neighbors hosted a thanksgiving party for Frank. He was visibly touched. We are truly grateful for the gift of family and friends during that difficult time. Though that tragedy caused us tremendous sadness and pain, the love and support of family and friends helped us heal over time. It made us realize that life can be taken at any moment and it should never be taken for granted. It is too short, and we need to live it to the fullest each passing moment.
Frank and I retired at the end of 2010 and, in between travel with friends, we became deeply involved in various projects and humanitarian service to help the needy both in the US and in the Philippines. September 11 helped us realize more that making a difference in someone else's life is the real source of happiness. It gives us a sense of purpose and fulfillment. We know that God has a plan for us, and we hope that we can give honor and glory to Him in everything that we do.
Vivian Talambiras-Cruz graduated from Assumption College and was president of the Assumption Alumnae Association NY 2001 – 2007. She worked at the International Atomic Energy Agency at the United Nations from 1987 to 2010.
Disbelief, a Sense of Loss
Dr. Dennis Dimaculangan, New Jersey
When I got to my lab, the bigger story started
to emerge as more news spread. A second plane had hit the second tower, and it
started to look more like a planned terror attack on NYC than just a wayward or
lost pilot. Subsequently, we all heard that both towers collapsed. I remember
the feelings of disbelief, the deep sense of loss realizing such iconic
structures that represented the world as well as America’s might and power—gone.
I remember feeling overwhelmed by the thought of many people dying and many
survivors that needed treatment will be coming to our emergency room.
It felt surreal. This type of scenario happens only in the movies—but that time it was for real. I was called to go down to the OR to help with preparations for an anticipated disaster scenario—an influx of injured survivors from collapsed towers. SUNY sits in the heart of Brooklyn and is seven miles away from Manhattan. With the magnitude of the disaster it was anticipated that all area hospitals including ours, would be swamped with injured survivors. Hospital beds were rolled down to the ER and all available staff was called to help and be ready.
We—doctors, nurses, medical students and staff at SUNY—waited and waited, but no survivors came. Even our satellite hospital—Long Island college hospital that sits closer to the towers by the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge did not get that many victims save for some who got treated with smoke inhalation. This told us that most of the victims died. I remember there was almost total communication black out for a period of time—one of the major broadcast towers in the city that happened to stand on the rooftop of one tower fell with it. We only got news from one Channel 2, which was broadcasting from a different communications tower.
It took a while for me to get in touch with Marlen and the kids because landlines and cell phones were also dead. I only got in touch with them late in the evening when we were sent home to our families. They were OK. That morning Marlen had dropped off Marco to school, and Bea was asking her mom to let her watch her favorite morning show, “Barney.” Sadly the only broadcasts available kept on showing repeated footages of the planes crashing and people jumping to their death from the buildings. It was sickening, and they had to shut off the TV.
I’ve come to a realization that we live in a complex and dangerous world. Anything can happen and you can lose everything or you can be gone in just a snap. I make it a point to kiss, hug and show my loved ones how much I love them before leaving home every day. Although no close relatives or friends were victims, September 11 still hit close to home as the brother of a surgeon friend and the husband of Marco’s schoolteacher perished in the attacks. God bless their souls.
New York City is cosmopolitan, diverse and it is the world—walk around this city and you will meet people from every part of the globe. It’s a beautiful city, a great place to live and enjoy life and contribute to the betterment of society. NYC and America have shown fortitude and resilience. Life must go on, but we should never forget.
Dennis Dimaculangan, MD is a Clinical Associate Professor and Clinical Director Dept. of Anesthesiology, SUNY Downstate Medical Center at Brooklyn, New York City. He graduated from U.P. College of Medicine, class 1993.
The Heartache Remains
Fiel Zabat, the West Side, NYC
I was about three miles north of the Twin Towers, going to
work early at Bloomingdale's, hurrying not to miss the morning meeting. My
affable manager Holly excused herself for a phone call. She returned to us
ashen-faced and told us that her husband's flight was cancelled due to a
bombing of the World Trade Center in the lower Manhattan area.
At that point we proceeded to the Employees’ Lounge and joined the hundreds of others already riveted to the television screen, witnessing the destruction of the Big Apple's pride, the World Trade Center. The entire store was ordered to immediately close, and for everyone's safety, we were politely asked to remain in the building and nobody could get out. Several eager customers were outside, waiting at the doors that would not open for that day or days after.
Fear was paramount because our store could be an easy target, it being the crossing station for Uptown/Downtown and East/West subway lines, which carried thousands of people into the city at that early hour. It is also a major thoroughfare for land vehicles ferrying people to their jobs in the city.
The telephones were cut off, so we could only imagine the chaos outside; we could see through the closed doors and windows people’s frantic attempts to get a ride home. Taxicabs were taking in strangers going towards the same route at sky-high fares, and buses were overloaded to the max with passengers clinging from the windows and subways were eventually shut down as most feared the underground system might be the next target with sarin gas. The day was spent fixing our displays, nervously waiting for word when we could leave, worrying about our friends and families who lived or worked near Ground Zero.
Finally at about two-thirty in the afternoon, the doors opened to let out the stampede of furious workers who were insanely eager to get to love ones. Very few buses were heroically loading their vehicles with anxious passengers fighting to get home. Thousands of people walked to their homes in Queens and Jersey and the surrounding suburbs, crossing all the bridges, leaving a scarred city behind.
The full impact of the event hit me when I walked home to the West Side, passing so many people stranded in lobbies of buildings, not knowing if there were more attacks to come. Reaching my apartment building, I joined the thousands of people on the streets, frozen by the sight of hundreds and hundreds of fire trucks and ambulances rushing into the Roosevelt Hospital next block. You could see the look of anxiety and confusion on their faces while holding up handmade placards hailing the heroes who were doing the most difficult tasks of trying to bring the injured and the dead into the hospitals and clinics nearby.
September 11 still chokes my heart. I felt personally violated. Visiting Ground Zero after a few months still weighs on my chest and soul, seeing the pictures of innocent New Yorkers pasted on every remaining space of every remaining wall or fence. The vulnerability of the mightiest nation in the world had been exposed, and America, a beacon of hope for the world, was forced to its knees.
Code D for Disaster
Jay Jimenez, Brooklyn, NYC
On the televisions, the image was of a smoking hole in the side of one of the towers. I thought at first, that this was a terrible accident and that the pilot of a small plane had somehow lost control and indeed had crashed into the WTC. Only later, when the video of the second airliner flying into the adjacent tower was flashed, did I realize that this was not an accident at all but a deliberate act.
The hospital promptly called a “Code D” (which I took to mean “disaster”). We finished morning rounds and the attending surgeons rushed back to the main campus on DeKalb Avenue to attend to the expected casualties. All post-call residents were required to stay on and help the ones just beginning their duty-shifts that morning.
The surprise was that it turned out to be a quiet day for our hospital. The few patients who came arrived in the mid-afternoon. These people had to walk across the bridges to get here. They all complained of difficulty breathing and were diagnosed to have (and received treatment for) smoke inhalation injuries. The Code D was later lifted early that evening and I arrived back in my apartment at around 7 in the evening.
My relatives lived in Mahwah in northern New Jersey – a town often referred to as a “bedroom community”, whose inhabitants worked in NYC and commuted to and from the city by train and bus every day.
I myself had made the trip many times, and always, would change from PATH train to the N or R subway line UNDER the WTC on my way to Brooklyn. Now, it would be different. Along the bus and train routes, in ALL the towns from NYC to Mahwah, the public spaces began flying many small American flags (with pictures and candles) in remembrance of their family and friends who died in the tragedy.
Jay Jimenez is a Medico-Legal Officer now based in Manila.