....Special Section - 11 September....
11 September - A Horrifying Day:
I (Greg) was in a building across the highway from the Pentagon
when the airplane hit it. Julie Anne works a few miles from the
Pentagon and can see it from her building. Her team was supposed
to have moved to the Pentagon recently but it was delayed and we
are thankful for that. One of the guys Greg knows in JA's office
complex has an office that faces the Pentagon and when the
airplane flew over, it was so low that he felt the building shake.
The guy watched as the plane flew a straight course into the
I work in Crystal City, about a mile from the Pentagon, and they evacuated our building shortly after the Pentagon attack. About halfway down the stairs we could smell acrid smoke and thought something had happened to our building but when I got outside I realized we were in the dense smoke coming from the Pentagon. It was so thick that I could barely read the words on the hotel sign just across the street. I heard and felt another big explosion shortly after getting outside, but I think it was from propane tanks or the jet's fuel at the Pentagon. I was talking to JA's co-worker on a cell phone at that time and they felt it in their building too.
Getting the car from the underground garage was kind of nerve-wracking because nobody knew yet what was going on and if our building had been hit I would be in the lowest level - not good. Finally I got out of the garage but the traffic was totally jammed on the streets - it took me more than an hour to go half a mile. The other scary thing was that while we were in the traffic jam the radio reports said another hijacked plane was inbound to Washington DC. Shortly after that a jet screamed overhead and everybody ducked but it turned out to be Air Force fighters patrolling the DC airspace. Still, it made me nervous every time I heard one because Crystal City has so many Government buildings and we didn't know if more hijacked planes really were inbound.
The car was getting hot so I parked and was able to walk to within 1 km of the Pentagon - I was down on the grass where the helicopters were landing and it was unbelievable. The hole and the column of smoke were so much bigger than they look on TV or in the papers. My first impression was that it looked like somebody had sliced a hot gooey lasagna because you could see all the layers of the building and part of the outside had collapsed. I tried to imagine how much energy had to be released to cause so much damage to the rows of thick concrete walls exposed in the gaping hole. There were also raging bright orange fires burning in the windows around the damage. One other thing that was strange is that there was no sign of the airplane; it must have burned completely. In any case, there were emergency vehicles, government vehicles, and helicopters everywhere. I couldn't take pictures because we are still getting organized after the move and we didn't have a camera in the car like we normally do.
The traffic getting home was horrendous because the entrances to the southbound part of the main highway had been closed. All the workers around the Pentagon and Crystal City had to take the tiny roads home - we live about 4 miles driving from the Pentagon and what normally takes 20 minutes took 5.5 hours! The whole way home, I listened to news reports and could see the big tower of black smoke in the mirrors.
JA and I met at our apartment, and for the rest of the day we had Government helicopters flying so low that we could see the pilots' faces and there were also military planes flying around the city. Plus, the northbound lanes of the main highway were closed but there were always emergency vehicles speeding by on it.
We can easily see the Capitol and the Washington Monument from our apartment and it was eerie to see the city shrouded in smoke. We also saw the helicopters when President Bush arrived at the White House. It felt like being in that movie called Independence Day - everything was so hard to believe even though we saw the Pentagon. It is even harder to believe that the World Trade Center is destroyed too. On the morning of 12 September, we could see that smoke was still coming from the Pentagon but it was a lighter color and not nearly as heavy as the day before. Plus, there were no commercial airplanes flying around National Airport. The only things flying around were government and news helicopters as well as some Air Force fighters.
Although I usually work in Crystal City, I occasionally work in Herndon near the FAA flow control center and am kind of nervous about that. I drive by the Pentagon on the way to Crystal City. The fires are out but the big black hole is something else. Somebody put up a big American flag on the side of the building and I have seen flags on several bridges and buildings in our area plus lots of ribbons and signs that say "God Bless America", "Freedom", and people are driving around with American flags on their cars.
It is hard to comprehend the amount of loss in DC and New York. We are fortunate that we were not injured or killed and are grateful that our friends who work in the Pentagon (and for the airlines) were not physically harmed either. All the same, things have changed here forever.
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