September 12, 2001 - Louisville Courier-News: Burundi RPCV Elizabeth Kramer recounts attack on Twin Towers

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Burundi: The Peace Corps in Burundi: September 12, 2001 - Louisville Courier-News: Burundi RPCV Elizabeth Kramer recounts attack on Twin Towers

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, April 06, 2003 - 2:51 pm: Edit Post

Burundi RPCV Elizabeth Kramer recounts attack on Twin Towers

Burundi RPCV Elizabeth Kramer recounts attack on Twin Towers

A Louisvillian in New York: Eyewitness to a tragedy
By Elizabeth Kramer

The writer, who is a public affairs specialist for the Peace Corps in its regional office in New York, is a native of Clarksville, Ind., and former Louisville resident. She is a student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

New York -- I was running late yesterday morning. The subway trains were running late.

From my apartment in lower Harlem, I took the C train and switched to the E train. At 9:10 I reached the last stop, World Trade Center. But when I got off, police officers were blocking the doors into the World Trade Center Mall under the twin towers.

"Go back. Go back. Exit the stairs," they said.

With a throng of other commuters, I walked up the nearby stairs. "Oh, my God.""Oh, my God." Everyone just said, "Oh, my God." From the stairs, we could see the northern tower of the World Trade Center burning. As the sunlight's reflection gleamed on most of the building's windows, flames were shooting out the windows of the mid-section and debris swirled around the building.

As I walked out onto Chambers Street and went to look for a pay phone, a large boom sounded. The streets shook. Few of the people on the street knew what was happening. Glass and large chunks of metal flew into the streets. I sought protection with some others. We pushed our bodies next to a large postal truck. Windows nearby shattered. I kept thinking that this must be a bombing, and there must be bombs in these surrounding buildings. "Where do I run?" I wondered.

The rubble stopped falling. I looked around and saw some people who had been cut and were bleeding.

"Move north. Move north," screamed the firemen at the corners.

I wondered what was happening to people in the building. I wondered who was in the regional Peace Corps office where I work in Building 6 of the World Trade Center.

The first thing I did was look for a pay phone to call my mother who lives in Clarksville. I waited in line. A woman next to me was crying. She worked in the first tower that was hit. Her colleagues were on the floors that were burning. She had been running late to work, too. I listened to her for a moment until a phone became free. She called her family, and I called mine.

Because of the people behind me, I made my call with my mother brief and began heading uptown, not really knowing where I was going to go. I did have meeting scheduled for late morning at the United Nations. I thought of heading there.

What time was it? I couldn't find my watch in my briefcase. I asked a man next to me as we walked across the street. "Ten," he said. We began talking.

John Lystad worked for Morgan Stanley and had been in the southern tower when it was hit.

At 9 a.m., Lystad was looking out the windows of the Morgan Stanley offices down on the Statue of Liberty when he heard the boom from plane hitting the nearby building. He could smell the smoke from the other building. He saw people jumping from the northern tower. Everyone in his office headed for the stairs. He said the stairwells were littered with women's shoes and purses, which had become too difficult to wear or carry. That's when the second plane flew into that building. The building swayed with the impact.

Now, it was 10 a.m. and 7 a.m. in Fresno, California where Lystad lives and works. He was at Morgan Stanley's headquarters in New York for a business trip. I told him to please call his family. He found a telephone on Broadway near Spring Street.

From the corner, I watched the fires burning in both buildings when the southern tower collapsed. Lystad wandered off while I was watching the smoke and debris billow into the streets. I had been standing right there and was thankful that I had left.

I headed north, through Soho and onto Union Square. At the Beth Israel Medical Center a man stood outside telling a passerby who wanted to enter that the center was closed.

My walk took me from the subway stop at the World Trade Center all the way to East 43rd Street near the United Nations. The building was closed and all staff had evacuated the buildings. I had walked through the streets completely stunned. Sometimes I thought of the people who had been caught in the burning buildings and the ones who had jumped from them. I almost cried, but felt that I was very lucky. Very lucky.

Near Madison Avenue and 50th Street, I caught a bus home. Although the bus was packed with more than 75 people. Few talked.

I thought of those who have been killed and their families. Also, I realized that I had been a target and appreciated that I was given the chance to live.

I thought about how familiar I had become with tragedy. I thought about my experiences in Africa, where I had moved in 1993. After serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, I had worked with UNICEF in Burundi and southern Sudan. In Burundi, I had lived around land mines and worked in camps where children who, after fleeing from fighting, suffered from acute malnutrition. In Sudan and Kenya, I had met a group of boys who had fled war in Sudan and fighting in Ethiopia. In the process, most of them lost their families. In 1998, I had seen people starving from a massive famine. During that same year, I had been living in Nairobi when the U.S. Embassy was bombed. Luckily, I had never been hurt in these places.

At 2 p.m., I finally reached my building on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. At the barbershop downstairs from my apartment, I spoke with some neighbors who knew I worked at the World Trade Center. Then a few young men came by to comment on the situation.

"You know it's these people," said a tall man on a bicycle. He was talking about the Yemenis who run the corner store.

I probably should have said something, but didn't. I just thought, this is where it starts. There are people with no tolerance for others who are "not like them"-- people who don't share the same nationality, people who don't share the same skin color, and people who don't share the same religion. Most likely, this intolerance was behind the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon today.

Intolerance crosses national borders. It is not bound to any one religion. A person doesn't harbor intolerance in his skin, but in his heart. I've seen how it manifests itself in Africa and in America.

This tragedy is so horrific because of the lives lost. It is also appalling because of the magnitude of hate it takes to carry out such a vicious act.

In condemning what happened today, and recognizing the "quiet, unyielding anger," President George W. Bush spoke of tonight, we should not close our hearts to people who are not like us and contribute to the force of intolerance and hatred in the world.

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Story Source: Louisville Courier-News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Burundi; September 11



By JOHN LYSTAD ( - on Thursday, October 23, 2003 - 5:28 pm: Edit Post


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