Civilians were not permitted in southern Manhattan, but such restrictions are meaningless today. My journey begins in Jersey City, where a few friends and I prepare supplies for the rescuer workers attacking fire and debris piled four stories in the air.
Hundreds of volunteers have lined up to assist the rescuers. A few lucky ones, if one dares to use such a label, have the opportunity to ferry to Manhattan to deliver supplies. I gladly accept the task. Though not permitted on the dock, I sneak on to assist.
Chunks have been viciously ripped out of buildings that move ominously closer to collapse. Black plumes of smoke arise from a white cloud lingering on the ground, indicating a new fire has begun or another building has shed its skin.
I begin to unload provisions from boats as they dock. The supplies arrive, and I join New York’s bravest and finest, the firefighters and police officers, to form a human conveyor belt. We pass ice, water, socks and shoes. A new load arrives bringing hot food, candy and Gatorade. Deliveries continue in spurts over the next hour.
I remain close to the pier, unsure of how deep to venture and afraid I will be identified as a civilian. Suddenly, a wave of bodies scurries forward. Men scream that another building is about to collapse and that we must evacuate. I turn right and run to a pier with others. Realizing we are now in the direct descent of a building possibly about to fall, we sprint the other way.
The Coast Guard has ordered all boats to head toward the dock. As they arrive, men leap onto anything that floats. The first boat is filled, and I hurry toward the next. As it leaves, I hurdle off the pier and onto a rail, grabbing the hand of a police officer as he guides me to safety. Only two more workers can jump on before we have to set sail.
As we dash away, everyone on board reaches for a cell phone to contact loved ones. One firefighter, with tears in his eyes and blood on his hands, calls his wife to say he is safe despite the incident. Another remarks how closely this must resemble the Dunkirk escape of World War II.
On board, it appears someone has gone into cardiac arrest. Though southern Manhattan is declared safe, we can no longer turn back. Not realizing someone is gravely ill, the men scream to turn the boat around, that they must return to the scene to do their jobs and save lives.
We dock in Jersey City and clear a path for medics as they rush to a fallen comrade. I walk away safely, calling my father on my cell phone and realizing that I cannot return. It is at that moment, as I stand, young, strong and healthy, that I want nothing more than to go back and help.