Publishing from Ground Zero

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Lower Manhattan: Living and Publishing at Ground Zero

Val, Mer and Russ,

We're ok, relatively speaking,but shellshocked. K and the kids are in Mystic, where I'm heading tomorrow to join them, then back to the city on Sunday. NY's pretty bleak. Our neighborhood is taken over by the military and relief efforts. The "missing" number has been increased to 6400. The foodmarkets are just starting to open again. "Big" media (NBC, ABC, Fox and 50 other media trucks) are parked on Greenwich street next to our home. They need the rising smoke, which is just starting to smell wierd, as a backdrop for "live, from the World Trade Center" reporting. Cici's school - four blocks north of the disaster, is closed and she is being doubled up in another school in Greenwich Village for an indeterminate amount of time. 58 per clasroom, 5 teachers. Noah's starting to talk about people screaming under the fire. He says he can hear them, but they're dead. The poor little boy is trying to process the fear and pain that hangs in the air, like the smoke. Pictures of missing firemen are everywhere. Our local fire stations have 49 missing - those in the first response wave. Cici talks about airplanes crashing into buildings and asks why. She asks if the sniffer dogs keep cutting their feet. We're trying to buffer them, and ourselves, from the horror of it all, but our world and neighborhood and lives will never be the same.

I rode the subway this morning and looked at the faces. Very sad and subdued. A black woman's chin was trembling. I have a couple of queries out for a private school for cici, but they're all with waiting lists. I have a shot at Grace Church school on 4th ave and 11th st. How are you guys holding up, and the kids?

Following is a piece I wrote for the New York Press Association. It was read aloud at the annual Saturday banquet.



Lower Manhattan: Living and Publishing at Ground Zero

Sorry I cannot join you tonight. It's been a hell of a week. On Tuesday, September 11th, at 8:40 am, we dropped our 5 year old daughter of at

P.S. 234 - four blocks north of the World Trade Center - to start her second day of kindergarten. We than walked two blocks over to Hudson Street where we were to drop our four year old son off for his first day at the local Montessori pre -school. A hundred feet short of his school we were ambushed by the horrific sound of a jet gunning its engines. My shoulders stiffened, I knew it was crashing. I looked the wrong way, but my wife Kathleen spotted the jetliner to the east of us at about 800 feet. It was roaring and going very fast. When it hit World Trade Center #1, the north tower,

Kathleen's knees buckled and she burst out crying saying, "Oh my God," and pointed to the ominous black hole and billowing smoke at the seventy to eightieth floor of the tower. I told Kathleen that I would return to P.S. 234 to check on our daughter; Kathleen would stay with our son. I retrieved our daughter and on the way, oh my God, that horrible jet sound again. The second tower was hit. We were under attack. Would there be a third plane?

I met Kathleen at our home in Tribeca, six blocks north of the now, in flame towers, and got up on the roof. The fires were eating through the upper floors, and I was so close I could see people on the 90th to 100th floors of the north tower waving black shirts out of the windows. A police helicopter hovered nearby but then sped off. People kept frantically waving their black shirts. Then the jumping started. First one, then another, then three almost at the same time, then another, then another. Little rag dolls. The pace of the nightmare was pickingup. When the south tower went down, we knew we had to get north. We fled, carrying the kids, joining thousands of others fleeing up Hudson Street. Along the way, another sonic boom pierced the chaos. We frantically searched the sky for another attack. I later found out it was a US Air Force fighter jet. When the second tower came down, a wave of panic took hold. Behind us we could see an enormous mass of clouds and smoke heading our way up Hudson Street. Everyone started running.

When we got to my newspaper's office at Canal and Greenwich, about a third of my staff was already there, tracking events. We took three families into the building with us. Then we tried to put out a newspaper which normally would be due at the printer that evening. We finally got to press Thursday evening.

When the Mayor closed the city south of 14th Street, my employees had to run five police checkpoints to get to our Canal Street office. At first, those who had press passes had not trouble; especially effective were the press passes issued by the NYC police department. By Thursday, showing a press pass proved to be a detriment. Police were especially suspicious, because the disaster site was already flooded with too many relief workers and hangers on, and every amateur shutterbug in NYC was trying to run the barricades. The police would then direct us to the communications staging area at Pier 40 on the Hudson River, where delay and chaos were the order of the day. My more committed employees almost always got to work, and if they failed to cross a one or two checkpoints, they would try another (it's a wide island).

Key art and production employees however, never managed to get to work on Tuesday or Wednesday. After all, the mayor did say that the city was closed south of 14th Street. Had I been able to get to the printer - whom I couldn't reach by phone for two days - and of course, the bridges were closed - he would not have been able to print the paper anyway because of his own thin staffing. The kicker? Our courier who has delivered our mechanicals to the printer for ten years failed to show. Reason? Three quarters of his drivers are Muslim and feared driving around the city, especially with the President coming to town. My editor finally bicycled the paper, in the rain, eight miles to Queens, at midnight. I'm worried about my free distribution paper, the Downtown Express, which is circulated south of Canal street. This is the only community newspaper whose total circulation is ground zero in this disaster. With no vehicles except emergency vehicles allowed south of Canal Street, I am not able to distribute the paper. And to whom, anyway?

90 percent of the 60,000 residents have been evacuated and 95% of the businesses and 100% of my advertisers, are shuttered. No distribution possible, no population to distribute to, no advertisers, no revenues. Hell of a formula.

The delay of two days gave us the time to pull together a full "disaster" edition of The Villager. Someone from another line of work asked me at one point why I was knocking my head against the wall, trying to publish in this horrendous week, when everything in the city was shut. She suggested that maybe I should defer publishing, as a show of respect for the victims, similar to the NFL I presume.

When I think of our local fire companies that were decimated in the first wave (41 firefighters dead or missing) and the many victims still buried under the rubble, I am proud to have told their stories - I only wish I could have done it on time.

Source: John W Sutter,

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