Eerie Quiet at N.Y. Hospital on Sept. 11: Deborah Roberts Remembers

Like so many in this city, I can never forget that lovely morning. Sept. 11, 2001 was crisp, clear and sunny. It was also a primary election day here in New York City. Somewhere between 7:30 and 8 a.m., after feeding my 2-year- old daughter a breakfast of fruit and cereal, I put her in the jog stroller and went to PS 6 to vote. After we emerged from the black curtain of the small booth, I went to Central Park for a  2  mile run. Afterall, it was an exquisite pre-fall morning.


Half an hour later, I arrived home to our Upper East Side apartment building to chatter among the doormen. A plane had apparently hit a high-rise building downtown. I remember feeling mildly curious, envisioning a small single engine aircraft possibly damaged or spiraling down after an accident. It was a local story, no doubt. When I got to my apartment on the 32 nd  floor, the story was all over the local stations.  An American Airlines jetliner, not a small plane, had plunged head-long into the World Trade Center. And it looked bad.


Determined to keep a cool head so as not to frighten my toddler, I went on with my ritual. I washed the morning dishes in the sink, and had a second cup of coffee. But there was no ignoring the newscast in the background. The local anchor was beginning to suggest that this was a deliberate act. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Why would a pilot deliberately commit suicide and take the lives of so many passengers?


As the minutes ticked along, this mysterious crash was taking on greater significance. Soon, the networks were replacing the local special reports. Peter Jennings was in the anchor chair and this was a serious, frightening story. My stomach began to churn, and my mouth went dry. We were under attack. I wasn’t sure whether to feel like an intrepid journalist ready to run downtown or a protective mom who desperately wanted to stay and protect my sweet daughter.


After speaking with my husband and realizing   he was all right, I soon realized that I wanted and needed to get to work to help cover this unimaginable event. As I greeted my babysitter who had just arrived and I quickly got dressed, I still wasn’t sure what truly had happened. I made my way to ABC with a sense of dread and curiosity.


Within minutes of my arrival it was becoming increasingly clear that this calamitous event was unlike anything we’d ever witnessed on U.S. soil. And the scale of the tragedy was now unfolding. There was more than one plane involved. And we all stood before the TV monitors at “20/20,” watching as one and the other Twin Tower toppled over. Many of us cried as we stood transfixed. Surely, hundreds had perished, I thought, and countless others were injured. I had no idea how badly I had calculated until I was later dispatched with a live truck to St. Vincent’s Hospital downtown to report on the arrival of casualties. After hours, with not one sound of a piercing siren, the gravity of the tragic day began to sink in. There would be no huge triage here. There were no survivors being pulled from the rubble at ground zero.

By nightfall, weary, numb and exhausted, I stepped out into a world that felt like a war zone. I finally flagged down a cab on a deserted Central Park West and began a heartbroken ride across town.  Soon I stepped into my apartment, a refuge from a chaotic world. Wracked with emotion, I scooped up my daughter and reached for my husband. We all held one another in a long and tearful embrace, and listened to the sounds of a stunned and broken city.


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