Thomas Van Schuyler's Observations of 9/11/01

Experience at Ground Zero - written September 14, 2001

I know you are probably wondering what I have experienced and what it was like down at ground zero.

First, I will start with Tuesday, September 11th. Normally I work 4x12, but on Tuesday I had a court case in Staten Island, therefore I had to work a day shift. I left my precinct in Brooklyn at around 8:45am to go to court when my MDT (mobile digital terminal) in my police car started beeping continuously and many messages were waiting. I checked them and they stated that there was a plane crash at the World Trade Center. I immediately turned on 1010 WINS and heard the news. By this time, I was already on the Belt Parkway and in view of the WTC and saw a lot of smoke coming from the building. I then lost sight of the building but continued to listen to the news when another plane struck the building. I then knew that something wasn't right and suspected that this was terrorism. By this time, I was approaching the Verrazano bridge and was very scared to go over the bridge not knowing if there was going to be another target. A bridge that big at that time of day would have been a perfect target. I made it over the bridge and to the District Attorney's office which was located directly across the Hudson River from the WTC. We had a perfect view of the WTC on the 8th floor of the DA's office. As I was talking to the DA, we were both looking at the twin buildings, saw a huge puff of smoke, and watched the first tower come down. I could not believe my eyes. The tower was there and then it was gone in 5 seconds. As I left the DA's office and headed back to my car, there were people crying and screaming in the street. I got back into my car and headed back to Brooklyn with the same fear of the bridge again. I made it over and as I got to the Brooklyn side and was driving through side streets (because they had already froze the Belt Parkway) I noticed heavy smoke on the Brooklyn side and dust falling from the sky… like snow.

I went to "ground zero" for the first time on Thursday night. I arrived there at 6:00pm and did not leave there until 8:30 Friday morning. Words cannot describe what I saw there. It is a horrific sight and smell. Your mouth turns completely dry and all you can taste is the dust in the air. When we first arrived, we were about ten blocks away from the sight, but there was an incredible amount of damage to the cars. The streets and cars had about an inch of dust on them. When we actually walked to ground zero (the real damage starting about three blocks away) my first shock was seeing a fire truck that was completely crushed and a police car that was in about five different pieces. I did not even realize was a police car until somebody pointed it out. There were many fire trucks and police cars like this, as well as private cars. All of these vehicles were covered with dust, some burned to a crisp but still covered with that dust and ash that was on the ground and in the air. We had to wear masks as we were told the EPA was has tested the area and found high amounts of asbestos in the air. They said that even with masks, we would have to watch for asthma like symptoms and to watch our health because we could get pneumonia very easily. We received exposure numbers so we would be covered for any future problems. The masks we had to wear made it harder to breathe, but we knew we had to wear them. Even if we did want to take them off, we did not want to smell the burning rubber, electrical wires, steel, and other odors. The buildings surrounding the WTC were damaged so badly, none of them had windows within a three block radius. Most of them were burned with black soot and covered with that same dust and ash as everything else. We had to walk through these buildings to get to the piles to start sifting through for any survivors. As we walked through these buildings you realize these are office buildings with shops in them all of these buildings have two inches of water, and mud on the floor broken glass lays everywhere and the stores items are scattered all over, the inside of these buildings are dark from no power. One particular building stands out in my mind as we walked through it this building had what was probably a beautiful lobby are with palm trees and a glass ceiling when the trade center came down it came through this lobby. When we did finally get to the twisted rubble as high as ten stories in some areas we were give shovels and buckets. I dug until a severe thunderstorm hit and stopped us because they were afraid of slides and collapses. There was no sign of life anywhere and I'm sorry to say from what I saw I don't see how there can be anyone left alive in there it will be a miracle if anyone else is alive. Please say a prayer for these people.

I was in the first group in my precinct to go down there and was asked what it was like down there and I explained as best as I could and encouraged others to go and see for themselves it is an incredible sight but also be prepared for the feeling of not being able to do much. As cops, we lost 23 brothers and hundreds of firemen and thousands of civilians. The whole time I was there they pulled out one body and found one body part... that's in 14 ˝ hours. I told them be prepared to see a war zone because that is what it is. A war zone.


Return to Homepage