Voices From Behind the Lens - Ground Zero

Susan Watts, Daily News:
I remember waking up that morning and thinking what a beautiful day it was. After photographing mayoral candidate Mark Green voting at 7am, I made some general voting feature pictures. My next assignment was at 11am, when Mayor Giuliani was going to vote. I had set up my laptop at a local Starbucks to transmit my pictures when my pager went off, "Forget election, a plane just hit the World Trade Center." I jumped up, closed my computer, grabbed the coffee and bagel and bolted out the door.

I heard the WTC activity on my police scanner, expecting to hear that some knucklehead pilot flew his Cessna or Piper into the building. But I heard them talking about an American Airlines plane. Impossible. Must be a mistake. That cannot happen. I heard the sirens of the emergency vehicles behind me. I trailed close behind the vehicles with their lights and sirens when suddenly I heard on the scanner, "Another plane just crashed into the other tower." I realized they were attacking us.

I raced down the FDR behind the responding vehicles, weaving through Lower Manhattan. After parking the car at Fulton Street, I ran over to Church Street and saw the Towers blazing. People were running out of the building screaming and crying and bleeding. Some had their skin peeling off their bodies from burns. Bodies were falling from the sky. The scene was chaotic. The police were attempting crowd control as photographers and TV cameramen swarmed. It was mayhem.

I kept my camera pointed at the building for a while and realized that I was missing other pictures. I turned my back to the building and was about to make pictures of people looking up at the flames. Suddenly the crowd began to run faster and I felt the ground rumble like an earthquake. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. As I turned around, I saw a huge gray-black billowing tornado of smoke coming right at me. The cops screamed, "RUN! RUN!" There was a stampede on the streets - people screaming, running. I remember my sunglasses flying off my head, my 80-200mm lens falling out of my pouch, my flash ripped off the hot shoe. I dove under a truck, thinking it would shield me. I thought it was a bomb. I never imagined that it was the building coming down. I figured, they got us from the air, planted bombs on the ground and they were going to decimate us. I envisioned the truck exploding or collapsing on me. I ran into a nearby pharmacy. People started shouting to get away from the glass. Through the window, it became black as night. You could not see a thing. I thought the building would explode any minute.

I grabbed the phone inside the pharmacy and called my boss. "Are you safe?" he asked. "None of us are safe. They are bombing us. We are all going to die. I'm trapped. This is the last call." I ran in the back with the others. It was chaos. Somehow I ended up in the lobby of an adjoining building. I saw photographer Brigitte Stelzer from The Post. We hugged and agreed to stick together. Through the windows of the lobby we could see outside. It was like Mars, or some bizarre looking winter. A gray hazy snow of debris was everywhere. People looked like ghosts - dazed and drifting aimlessly. We had to go out there. I couldn't see, my eyes burned, my lungs hurt from the dust. I covered my nose and mouth with my shirt and tried to shoot pictures. I was in shock. I did not know where I was. Disoriented, I followed the screams of, "Go north, head north." We drifted north to the foot of City Hall. I continued shooting the ash-covered people and those who were fleeing over the Brooklyn Bridge. Then, the screams of, "RUN! RUN!" Started again, and we ran again. It was the second tower coming down.

As we neared the West Side Highway, the cops and emergency workers began to run toward us again screaming, "RUN! There is a gas leak on the West Side Highway and it is going to explode!" Again we ran. We made it to Tribeca and saw the smoke and debris in the distance. People on the street began shouting that another plane had also hit the Pentagon. Cries of, "they are going to get the Empire State Building next," echoed. I believed the world was coming to an end.


Warren Winter:
The second plane slammed into the second tower about two minutes before I got to the roof of the Flatiron Building and started shooting. Seeing the two towers burn was the worst thing I've ever seen. I still can't find the words to describe how I felt when I saw the first tower collapse. The camera went silent as I suddenly realized my girlfriend Cara was working on a political campaign at the base of the World Trade Center. I felt sick, as I though I'd just photographed the death of nearly everyone I love.

I ran about a block and a half to the nearest photo lab, gave them my film and grabbed their phone. I called Cara's cell phone. Nothing. I called home. She was OK. Very, very shaken up and crying uncontrollably, but OK. She had been on the ground floor of the first tower when the first plane hit. She saw the second plane explode in Tower Two from two blocks away. She was very lucky, she got on what was probably the last subway to get out of lower Manhattan. This morning we attended photojournalist Bill Biggart's funeral. I feel so deeply for Bill's wife and three children. I still can't believe what I saw. I'm sure I never will. I still can't believe what I felt. I'm sure I never will.

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