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Families still feeling pain

By Miranda la Rose Sunday, September 11 2011

Today marks the tenth anniversary of “9/11”, or the “September 11” terrorist attacks on the United States as it is also referred to, in which 2,763 people, including 14 Trinidad and Tobago (TT) nationals, perished ten years ago.

The incident, which has been one of the most telling in world history, has been marked for the past two weeks in the US and around the world, with the international press retelling the stories of how a group of terrorists led by Osama bin Laden attacked sites in the heart of the United States, leading to immense destruction and pain for those who lost family, loved ones and friends.

Family members of nationals who died in the attacks say every year when the anniversary comes around, “it is painful”.

“It makes me feel so sad,” said Ivory Morales, mother of Paula Morales, 42, who died in one of the attacks on the World Trade Centre.

Other nationals who died were Conrad Cottoy, 50; Rena Sam-Dinnoo, 38; Joan Francis; Winston Grant, 59; Clara Hinds, 52; Stephen Joseph, 39; Boyie Mohamed, 50; Glenroy Neblett, 42; Jerome Nedd, 39; Oscar Nesbitt, 58; Anthony Portillo, 48; Vishoo Ramsaroop, 45; and Goumatie Thackurdeen, 35.

The United States Embassy in TT has organised a commemoration activity today for those who died when four commercial airliners, hijacked by 19 Al Qaeda terrorists, crashed into the World Trade Centre, New York; the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia; and in a field in Pennsylvania during the early morning hours on September 11, 2001. Over 10,000 people suffered varying degrees of injuries in the attacks.

Acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith is scheduled to deliver the main address at today’s commemoration activity, which takes place at the National Academy of the Performing Arts (NAPA) in Port-of-Spain. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, other Government ministers and members of the diplomatic community have also been invited. Divine Echoes is on the programme to perform, and a number of balloons will be released in the vicinity of the Queen’s Park Savannah as part of the celebration.

Recalling the death of her daughter on Friday, Ivory Morales told Sunday Newsday, “Every year when this time comes around, I feel the same way I felt when the tragedy occurred. I was devastated.”

Her daughter, Paula, worked on the 102nd floor of the South Tower that was hit by the second plane.

Some of Paula’s friends, who were with her at the time the North Tower was hit, managed to escape. They saw the tower burning and called on her to leave. They said she was screaming when they left. She was in apparent shock. They did not know the US was under attack, and that the South Tower was the next target. Paula had no chance of escaping when the South Tower was struck, her mother recalled.

“I can’t comprehend what the end was like with the building crashing down, and she in it. That is the part I keep thinking about. That is what pains me the most,” she said.

Conrad Cottoy’s sister, Ellen Cooper, said, “I feel as if it was ten days ago, and not ten years.”

Looking at the preparation for the tenth anniversary at Ground Zero, where the towers stood and where construction is now underway again, she said it had “brought back all the pains”,

Al Qaeda’s threats at this time, she said, “are disgusting”.

Former Al Qaeda leader bin Laden’s death, she said, “provides a sense of relief, but I think he died too easily after destroying so many lives. I don’t think justice has been done”.

Bin Laden was killed by a team of US Navy Seals who stormed his gated hideout in Pakistan on May 1.

Ivory Morales said she was relieved that bin Laden and most of those who were the mastermind of 9/11 “were no longer around”, but she too feels that “justice has not been served.”

Like Paula Morales, Cottoy worked on the 92nd floor, but in the North Tower which was the first that was attacked.

“I often wonder what he did at the time. What were his last thoughts? It haunts me,” Cooper said.

She knew where her brother worked, as he had given them a tour of the towers. They were watching a report on the bombing of the first tower in 2001 when they saw the plane fly into the second tower.

“It was horrifying,” she recalled.

Like Morales, she knows she will be in tears when her brother’s name is called at today’s celebration of the lives of those slain.

Trinidadians, too, survived the tragedy. They included Shima Ramkay, then 52; and Kevin Steeple, who lived in Manhattan at the time.

Three years ago, Steeple recalled to Newsday how he was trapped in the WTC at the time of the attack. He was at the WTC to attend a doll show and to meet friends at the top of one of the towers, but he was late. He was heading to one of the elevators when there was a ‘black-out’ and the building shook. Electricty was restored temporarily, but he said, “I was not staying in a shaking building.”

On his way out he was trapped between people trying to get out and firemen charging in. He got out of the building and realised the other tower was “going down”.

Pandemonium was the order. It was hard to see and breathe, he said, as the place was engulfed in dust and debris.

“Glass and metal was flying through the smog. I looked up and saw people jumping out of the towers virtually ending their lives.”

Steeple made it to the Brooklyn Bridge and there, he said, he saw people jumping into the East River because of a rumour that the bridge was going to be attacked. He made it across the bridge where paramedics were tending to the injured. He was taken to the DeKalb Hospital, where he was treated for shock. When he was discharged he was temporarily homeless, as the bridge was locked off on the other side. He slept in the park near to the hospital with hundreds of others.

“Smoke was all over our bodies, and we could smell raw burning flesh from a distance,” he recalled.

The bridge was reopened on September 17 when he made his way home.

“The only place opened to make a phone call was in Times Square. When I called home to let my family know I was okay, I got news that my
mother had died of a heart attack.”
Following 9/11, Steeple suffered from depression, endured nightmares, and could not get the smell of dead bodies out of his nostrils. An artist by trade, he also could not paint. He battled a nervous condition as a result of the experience.
Originally from San Juan, Ramkay told Newsday in 2001 that she worked on the ground floor of the North Tower of the WTC, where the hijackers crashed two jets into the “Twin Towers” that made up the WTC.

Ramkay heard the explosion of the first airliner as it crashed into the North Tower about 8.45 am and fled the building before the evacuation of people started. On reaching outside she saw people running in all directions. She saw the tower on fire.

Ramkay said, “There was smoke everywhere. I saw scenes of absolute chaos as people were running away screaming.”

She caught the last train out of New York and made her way out without looking back at the horror which unfolded. She cried and many on the train, she said, cried openly as they listened to news reports of the second crash and the loss of many lives.
Others who survived were Jennifer Brown, her daughter Delores, and her grandchild. The Brown women were employees of Morgan Stanley Investment Firm, which occupied several floors of the South Tower — the second to be hit. They escaped without injury.

Ten years ago, Newsday also reported that a group of Trinidadians enrolled at a New York college witnessed the attack. Ayana Bertrand, daughter of then Mayor of Point Fortin, Francis Bertrand, attended St Francis College, located across the river opposite the WTC. She heard the explosion and felt the sonic boom. Bertrand and other students were on the roof of the college looking at the burning North Tower when the hijackers flew the second plane into the South Tower. Ayana Bertrand reported it was “horrific”.

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