Standing in TriBeCa, 8 blocks from World Trade Center
Erik Hoekstra strode up the dirty concrete stairs of the New York City subway station Tuesday morning and emerged into chaos.
“I got off the train and the whole World Trade Center was on fire,” he said. “It was crazy. It was just a series of crashes. You could feel the ground shaking.”
The sight stunned the 2000 UW graduate, and he began staring at the wreckage.
“I just stood there for a good half an hour – I was blown away,” he said. “Then, suddenly the second tower collapsed and it became a frantic scene. The buildings just fell down; it looked like an implosion.”
Next, a tidal wave of humanity surged up the island.
“There was a mass exodus of people moving north up Manhattan,” Hoekstra said. “People were crying, people were running; some people were just shaking their heads – they didn’t know what to do.”
Most people’s first instinct was to contact loved ones, but most circuits were busy.
“People were trying to call people on cell phones, but nobody’s phones were working,” Hoekstra said. “Everyone was out of their head.”
As people scurried to safety, Hoekstra said the scene resembled a war zone.
“It looks like what I’ve seen war zones look like on CNN,” Hoekstra said. “We don’t have wars in the U.S. – not since the 1800s.”
He quickly joined the surging crowd making its way uptown.
“As soon as the building collapsed, I thought it would be a good idea to get away from down there,” he said. “I just started walking north heading toward my office. I made some phone calls and started home.”
From the promenade in Brooklyn near the East River, Hoekstra had a clear view of lower Manhattan.
“You can see all of downtown, and all of it is consumed in smoke,” he said. “It’s weird, because half of the sky is covered with smoke and half of it is a perfect blue – it’s a big contrast.”
Hoekstra said he would never forget the reaction of the crowd near the disaster zone.
“The thing that really strikes me was people’s reaction; nobody knew what to do or what this is about,” he said. “People don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to go to work tomorrow.”
However, Hoekstra said he hopes Tuesday’s events serve as a wake-up call.
“I’m hoping the U.S. realizes things aren’t hunky-dory around the world,” he said. “People are pissed off at us. We need to stop acting like everyone’s big brother and start cooperating. I’m afraid the initial reaction is going to be aggressive – that we’re going to start a war.”
As he stood in Brooklyn at the base of the Manhattan Bridge, Hoekstra spoke about the rescue workers and the injured.
“Every available police officer, ambulance driver, fireman etcetera are all out in the street right now,” he said. “What’s done is done. Trying to get as many people help as possible is what’s important now.”