Notes from September 11, 2001
Here are my thoughts that I wrote and published on one of my web sites late in the evening of September 11, 2001. My apologies for the spelling errors. I may post some of my other "diary" entries, but they are all already online at that web address and have been for close to five years now.
I'm here down in Washington, DC now. It's calm in a strange kind of way. Everybody talking about the details of the crashes, but there weren't that many hurt at the Pentagon compared to NYC. People get very philosophical about what should be done. Nobody has a clear answer. Every "solution" has drawbacks. Some say this is definitely Bin Laden's work. Others say that Bin Laden is doing this (as well as previous terrorist acts) in conspiracy with Iraq. And then there's the issue of Afghanistan's "harboring" of Bin Laden. People in Washington are focused on this kind of stuff compared to the sheer damage and loss of life in New York.
I was on the internet early but signed off right at 8:45, so I just missed the news. About 9:15 I left my apartment when is six blocks north of the White House and was on my way to a Senate hearing when I saw the Pentagon smoke just a few minutes before 10 am when I was near Union Station, but I didn't hear any explosion so I figured it must be a large fire and not a bomb. Other than that smoke, I saw no signs of anything wrong.
A lot of people were leaving the Senate office buildings, but they hadn't started a formal evacuation yet, as of 10:00 am. I asked the guard at the building just after 10 am and he shrugged his shoulders and said they weren't evactuating and people were just leaving by their own choice. I went to the hearing (Senate Banking hearing on the failure of the Superior Bank in Illinois held in the Dirksen office building), which was packed, and it started about 10:05. Senater Sarbanes said he wasn't goto to let "them" shut down his hearing. The hearing went for about 15 minutes before the guard informed us that we had to evacuate.
Some of us sitting near the windows had heard a distant boom around 10:11 am. I ran into somebody later who said it was a sonic boom from a jet fighter. I saw one fighter once and could hear them on occasion, but could not see them. The sky was fairly clear with just a few clouds. Lots of helicopters coming and going to the Pentagon.
I listened to some reporters interviewing Senators out in the park across the street. But the reporters couldn't call in their quotes because their cell phones wouldn't work due to too many people using their phones. I stayed there a little while. Some people had their car radios on so we could listen to the news. I actually didn't know what had happened until after the hearing started. I just knew that "something" had happened over near the river. One of the Senators being interviewed has Senator Levin who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and who will be involved at the center of the investigation of what happened and whatever response occurs.
Then I and then walked down to the river where we could see the smoke still billowing from the Pentagon. They had all the monuments roped off, but I was able to walk across the bridge and could see the Pentagon from fairly close. Close enough to smell the smoke. They weren't really stopping people from moving around. A while later I got close enough to the far side to see where the damage was. The gash in the side of the building was not that big, at least looking at it from a very oblique angle, but we could not see straight in at the bulk of the damage. They were still fighting the fire late in the day. The building is solid concrete, but the roof is wood and tar and just very difficult to put out. Eventually we could see workers atop the roof right at the gash.
I was able to talk to some people who were in the Pentagon at the time. On woman was watching the news of the NY crash and one of her co-workers said "Well, at least they didn't hit the Pentagon" and then ten minutes later they did. They evacuated and the police kept moving them further from the building. At one point the police cars roared up with their PA system warning that "A hijacked plane is incoming". Whether that was the Pittsburgh plane or just a too-late warning about the first plane wasn't clear. At that point people ran and tried to get behind a stone wall (the entrance to the LBJ Memorial Grove). People calmed down and walked over the Crystal City, not more than a mile away. Most did not come back and the parking lot was half full even at the end of the day. The woman I talked to had come back for her car and was very calm about the whole thing.
Just about everybody I ran into was fairly calm about the whole thing. But the damage in DC is far less than in NY. At dinner I was talking to a guy from NY who lives not far from the Trade Center whose wife had gone out for coffee with a friend and looked up just in time to see the collapse. Her friend's husband worked in the Trade Center. This guy knows somebody who worked on the 40th floor and made it out, so not everyone died. That's so much more different than DC where maybe only 100 or less (besides the plane passengers) died. Nobody has the numbers for sure yet.
I heard one police officer say that they had too many volunteers and had sent a lot of them home. There was a virtual parking lot full of emergency vehicles of every sort at the Pentagon. But they only had three water canons going.
I was over at the Pentagon until 7:30 pm. I could hear that the Metro train was running again near the Pentagon. Some highways near the Pentagon were closed, but not all. There were a moderate number of cars on the road. I walked along the river and crossed over to the Lincoln Memorial. All the memorials were completely lit, but roped off. I had to detour around the White House area since a whole bunch of blocks were closed.
Virtually all restaurants were closed, except those in hotels and they required that you be a guest. But I got into the Marriott Courtyard across the street from my apartment and had dinner. I just got back to my apartment around 10:30 and still had not seen any TV news (I don't have a TV either). Luckily the internet is working fine right now. I still haven't seen any pictures of the World Trade Center, but I know from personal experience what the Pentagon looked like. One officer at the Pentagon checkpoint said he had been at the site earlier and he saw no large pieces lying around, but I think they're all inside the building.
People are just waiting for the President to decide what he's going to do. Downtown DC will probably be back to work within a couple days since there's no damage over here. Ironically, the section of the Pentagon which was hit was the part that was just renovated. But that meant that not everyone had moved back into their offices and many people were away at meetings.
There's a state of emergency of some sort here in DC, but no curfew or restrictions other than the fact that most people just went home, so most businesses other than hotels are closed. The police stationed throughout the city are all pretty casual about everything.
The Metro subway train was closed early on, but eventually opened except for the lines that ran past the Pentagon. But I think everything was eventually open.
There was a lot of confusion with traffic because they told everybody to "go home" all at once. That was a mistake. They should have told people to take their time and enjoy the weather in the park areas and the malls. I wouldn't have wanted to be in a car driving past some government building that might be attacked.
Strangely, it didn't feel uncomfortable in the Senate office building. In fact, when they told us to evacuate, people just sat there for a couple of minutes, even through they all knew what had happened. That's the kind of people you get in Washington -- nobody wanted to give up their seat in a packed hearing! In fact, the chair I took was actually the CSPAN cameraman's chair. I figured I'd sit there until he got back, back he never came back. The camera was on auto-pilot.
That's the way it was on Tuesday. Tomorrow's a different story.