Sunday, September 8, 2002



By Ayumi Nakanishi


Days of anger,
days of hope

AYUMI NAKANISHI, photography intern with the Star-Bulletin, is a native of Tokyo who has spent the last two years living in New York City, just 10 blocks from the World Trade Center. On Sept. 11, 2001, she was returning to New York from Washington, D.C., when her flight was canceled because of the Trade Center attacks. She later learned that a flight that had left just before hers had crashed into the Pentagon. Nakanishi took these photographs upon returning to New York. Following, are some excerpts from her journal.

Sept. 18, 2001
Rebecca Philips held niece Rachael at Union Square, where thousands of flowers and candles had been left as memorials to the missing.

Sept. 18, 2001
A woman quietly held a flag and a rose in Union Square.

Brush with 9/11
tragedy leaves
lasting impact

Sept. 11, 2001: It was about 9:10 a.m. on what was supposed to be the last day of our trip to Washington, D.C. My parents were on a United Airlines flight returning to Japan and I was on another United flight leaving for New York. We were both about to take off from Dulles International Airport.

Someone on my flight, still on her cellular phone, suddenly screamed, "Oh, my God. A plane just crashed in New York." A few other passengers started making calls. In seconds, the same woman screamed again, "Oh, my God, it's TWO! TWO PLANES CRASHED INTO THE WORLD TRADE CENTER!!"

Five minutes later, we were back at the gate, quietly watching President Bush on television, saying it may have been a terrorist attack. Then the Pentagon was attacked and the airport was evacuated. It was so chaotic, but all I cared about was finding my parents.

An hour later we met at the luggage pickup area, where airline employees were shouting at confused travelers, "Your life first! The luggage next! Come back tomorrow for your luggage!"

Later we learned that the flight that had crashed into the Pentagon had taken off just before my flight was supposed to leave. It could have been my flight; it could have been me.

That night I reached my boyfriend in New York. He'd heard on the radio that all 12 flights leaving Dulles that morning for New York had been hijacked. In a panicky voice he told me that he thought I was already dead.

Sept. 11, 2001
At noon, travelers evacuated from flights at Washington D.C.'s Dulles International Airport waited in a long line for cabs. A television set broadcast the CNN news.

My parents and I were stuck in a hotel across the street from Dulles for a week. My parents finally left for Japan on Sept. 20; I reached New York by Amtrak on Monday, the 17th, amid grief, denial and confusion.

After watching news all day for a week, I felt so close to the event -- and now I was finally back in the broken city, my city. The area I lived in is on the lower east side, about 10 blocks from the World Trade Center. All of lower Manhattan was blocked off until the weekend, with residents having to show IDs and proofs of residency to police officers at every corner to get home.

My apartment seemed all right, making it hard to believe there had been hundreds of people covered in ashes and blood, running for their lives on this very street. My neighbors had listened to the sirens of fire trucks headed south on the same street endlessly on the day of the attacks.

I walked as close as I could to ground zero on Tuesday, a week after the attacks. It was shocking. It looked like a war zone. All I could see was what used to be the bottom of the World Trade Center -- now a burnt and destroyed block with holes that were once windows, the smoke still rising, people wearing masks, military personnel in gas masks everywhere and the whole area blocked off -- it just didn't seem real.

Sadness was everywhere. Thousands of people from all over the world had worked in those buildings. Their families were looking for them.

Sept. 30, 2001
The wreckage at ground zero.

Sept. 18, 2001
Volunteers on a Red Cross truck delivered bottles of water to police officers on guard on the streets of Manhattan.

Sept. 19, 2001
At the Times Square-42nd Street subway station, passers-by studied posters of people still missing.

Sept. 18, 2001: "Love is an amazing energy," says Rebecca Philips, who is at Union Square with her niece Rachael, 7, viewing the thousands of flowers, candles and handmade posters of people missing. "So many people coming together is overwhelming."

At the same time, there is much hate in the city against anyone Arabic. Many Manhattan corner delis are owned by Arabic people. On the day of the attacks they were insulted in their stores and attacked by shoplifters. "It reminded me of the L.A. riot," says Yojiro Harada, 29, who reported crimes he witnessed to police. The reaction he got? "There is nothing we can do about it." Now at every corner deli, a police officer is standing.

Oct. 7, 2001: "War and racism are not the answer!" are the words on flyers and banners at Union Square, carried by protesters.

If we don't stop this now, many more innocent people from two countries will be killed, says a socialist from the Internationalist Group. Some pedestrians shout at them, "Stupid protest" or, "They don't know what they are doing."

Oct. 7, 2001
Protesters folded their hands in prayer when a Buddist monk led interfaith religious services in Union Square on the day the United States started bombing Afghanistan. Later, they marched in protest against war and racism.

The rest of New York is still trying to achieve normalcy, knowing that more than 6,000 people remain missing, or are presumed dead. Rescuers are still searching for bodies, some trains are still not working, traffic is crazy ... there is no such thing as "everyday life."

Life seems so strange after being part of something so huge. I experienced the craziness very closely, starting in D.C., then New York. But for a few minutes' difference, or a slight change in plan, I could have been killed. What if I had been in New York, in my own apartment that morning and decided to go to the attack site to shoot photos? What if I had been just below the buildings when they collapsed? What if my parents had planned to leave for California that morning from D.C.? All of these things were very possible.

I am still alive and safe.

Oct. 15, 2001: It has been more than a month. Posters of people missing are mostly gone, the flowers and candles placed at parks have been cleaned up, and I think people are accepting that there are no more survivors. New York is trying to get back to normal, although patriotism seems greater than ever. The latest fashion is to wear anything in the colors of the flag -- it seems as if this will keep you safe, no matter what your nationality.

September 2002: Memories usually fade. But the events of a year ago, I remember as if they happened yesterday. I have changed in major ways. I try never to take things for granted. I try not to waste a single minute that I live. I try to put as much energy as possible into everything I do. When I say "I will see you later," it is not a passing phrase; I truly hope to see you later. Because it may not happen -- it didn't happen for all those people who never came home that day.

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