On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, Mohawk ironworkers Bart Goodleaf and Steve Bonspiel were working atop a building on 166th Street in Manhattan when they saw one of the World Trade Center towers burning in the distance.
When they heard a boom they thought that the building had blown up. They were told later that a plane full of passengers had crashed into it. The building they were working on was evacuated. “Normally ironworkers are very strong,” said Bonspiel, “but they were very shaky”. The pair tried to drive out of the city but traffic in and out was blocked, so they headed south for the burning towers to try and help. They were turned back at Canal Street because of the number of people at the scene. Bonspiel and Goodleaf then headed back on foot towards Brooklyn. “It was very somber,” said Bonspiel. “People were gathered around TVs. I’ve never seen New York that dead.” he added.
The scene in Manhattan the day after the disaster was surreal, “There were no cars, people were crying in the streets. Like in the movies, but different. You can smell it,” said Goodleaf. “It will be like that on Monday.”
“Words can’t describe it… the feeling. I wanted to cry and throw up. To see it and smell it,” he said of the scene before him.
Goodleaf said there are ironworkers working at the scene clearing debris and helping in the rescue. “There’s just iron, no cement, it’s all powder. I hope I never see anything like it again in my life,” he added.
A Cree who works in New York, who identifies herself only as Katy, emailed, ‘1t was a very very scary experience. It’s still very spooky and surreal. I watched from my rooftop and saw the second explosion and then the collapse of both towers. It was strange to see warplanes over the city.
Later in the afternoon, I walked along Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn. It was dark outside because of the smoke; there was burnt paper and other stuff I didn’t want to look at in the streets; all from the catastrophe. I picked up one piece of paper and read an interoffice memo. I started to cry because I realized that the author of the memo was likely dead. But I think what haunts me the most is this: survivors are relaying stories of disabled people in wheelchairs who, obviously, couldn’t make it down the stairwells of the towers. They were forced to stay and await their deaths.
Other people simply threw themselves from the buildings rather than burn to death. I can’t get these two images out of my mind.
For a while there, I was also frantic because Gary had an appointment across from the Buildings. His subway stop is the World Trade Center. I couldn’t reach him on his cell. Finally he called; he was walking back to Brooklyn from one of the bridges. When he came home, he was covered in soot. We rode our bikes today to work (took a while). I needed to do something; I couldn’t stay at home anymore. At the moment, I’m trying to get in touch with my old roommate, John. He’s a paramedic who is stationed in that area.”