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September 11, 2001:
A Personal View Just Blocks from the Attack
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Each week, an educator shares a unique perspective on an issue of importance to educators in Education World's Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Ted Nellen, who lives in the shadow of the World Trade Center, shares his personal perspective on September 11.


September 11 started like any other school day. I dropped off my seven-year-old son at his school, P.S. 234 in lower Manhattan, at 8:40 a.m. It is located a few blocks from the World Trade Center. I walked one block along Chambers Street to catch the Number 2 train, which took me uptown to the school I was working in that day.

My cell phone started beeping as I got off the train at 125th Street. I had a message, but before I could retrieve it, the phone rang. It was my wife. She asked if I had heard. "Heard what?" I asked. "The World Trade Tower had just been hit by a plane," she told me.

I turned around and saw an image I didn't believe. Then the second plane hit.

I was in shock. I was panicked that my son was down there. I had to get downtown, but the trains were not going there. Immediately, I began walking. I walked east to FDR Drive, where I began hitchhiking. A cab with someone in it picked me up and took me as far as 23rd Street on the East River; there we were forced off the highway by the police. I ran back onto the highway and hailed a police car that was heading downtown. I told the officers my son was in a school in the shadow of the towers. They told me to jump in and we sped down the highway as far as they could take me -- to Houston Street. From there, I walked the rest of the way. I walked against a sea of pedestrians who were racing from the area.

As I reached Broadway, I saw a seven-story plume of smoke and debris cascade across Broadway. People were running, but they were overtaken by the plume caused by the collapse of one of the towers. Finally, I got within a block of my son's school, to a point where I could see it. I learned that the school had been evacuated to another school, P.S. 41, on 10th Street and Sixth Avenue.

Relieved, I turned northward to that school, where I found my son safely seated in the auditorium. He was the last one in his class to be picked up. The principal and a couple of teachers came up to me and told me how helpful he had been. I was proud of him, and I told him so. We hugged for what seemed an eternity. He doesn't hug and kiss me in school, but he did this day.

We headed off together toward Lexington Avenue and 23rd Street, where my 16-year-old daughter was safe at her school. My wife arrived at the same time from a different direction. We had not been able to communicate because our cell phones were useless. It was 2:30 p.m. and we had lived a day unlike any day we had ever experienced in our lives. I'm a Vietnam veteran, but this day was far worse than any day I ever spent in Vietnam.

Together, our family walked home. Home is in lower Manhattan, a mere ten blocks from the World Trade Center. We walked up 23 floors. Our home was filled with dust, and it smelled. We had lost all services -- water, electricity, and phone. For the next two days, we stayed there under those conditions. Finally, the building acquired a generator to provide us with power.

FOUR WEEKS LATER: OCTOBER 9

Today, my son entered his third school in one month. It is an old school, unused in recent years, but the parents of P.S. 234 students have spent the last couple of weeks preparing the building for the children. Large pictures of all the students are displayed on the walls. The place has been newly painted, and new books, desks, and supplies have been brought in. It is a very cheerful place. My son found his picture on the second floor of his new school. We are so lucky to have our son in P.S. 234. This afternoon, he came out of school more happy about school than I can ever recall.



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