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Smoke and chalk drawings: New York City starts picking up the pieces

Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

NEW YORK - There's still smoke rising over the city. From the New York University campus, it looks like the cloud has reached all the way to the lower Manhattan streets where I stood Tuesday and watched the towers burn.

Last night, I stayed with friends in a dorm near the Hudson River. We spent the night e-mailing and calling relatives, frustrated by crossed wires and interruptions in service. I got through to my father, David Hawes, at about 9:30 p.m. He's staying with a friend in Mt. Kisco, a suburb in Westchester and is safe - his plane was on the runway, preparing for takeoff, when the airlines were shut down.

We talked for about 10 minutes; his voice sounded different, a little tired. Mine probably did, too.

My father, who works as a planner for the state Department of Transportation in Juneau, told me brief details of what happened to him - the airport was quiet, he walked to a train station. He hadn't realized I was so close to the towers.

"If I hadn't given you that subway card, you would have been out of there on the NYU bus before any of this happened," he said.

I assured him that I was all right, and before we said goodbye, I made sure to tell him I loved him.

Later that night, one of the girls I was staying with walked with me to St. Vincent's Hospital on West 12th Street and Seventh Avenue to see if they needed blood donors.

Like the rest of the city, the scene was strangely calm. Few cars on the streets, no large crowds. We picked our way around the police barriers to the main door, where they told us to come back today.

On our way back home, we looked up at the sky. Even in the dark, you could see the smoke. It looked like the city was burning. When we stopped at a corner, a line of fire trucks and police cars drove past us, sirens blaring in the night.

This morning, we returned to the hospital. If possible, the streets were even more quiet. In the midst of Tuesday's bedlam, there were still taxis, still UPS and FedEx trucks making their delivery rounds. Today there were no cars, and very few passersby. Stores were closed. The streets were quiet.

"It's like we're in a small town that just happens to have very big buildings," my friend said when we stopped at a normally busy thoroughfare.

In Washington Square Park, two little girls were drawing chalk pictures on the ground. Someone - perhaps their parents? - had written "In Memory of the twin towers" in pink block letters next to their art. There are little messages like that everywhere you look, signs of solidarity and comfort in the midst of the city.

The subway trains are rumbling under the pavement again; I could hear them as I fell asleep last night. Sirens still echo in the distance, but they're more spaced out.

And on the corners and in the empty streets, people still stand with video cameras, pointing them at nothing, taping only smoke and the seemingly gaping hole in the New York City skyline.

Genevieve Gagne-Hawes grew up in Juneau and is studying journalism in New York city.



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