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Covering the World Trade Center Attack

I just happened to be in New York when the attacks occurred, and it was the biggest story of my life.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was having breakfast with my brother-in-law, getting ready to play a round of golf with him on Long Island, when suddenly my sister Gail, who had been watching morning television in the den, came running into the kitchen and said, "Wow, a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!"

We rushed to the television and were horrified when, about 15 minutes later, another plane smashed into the smoldering center.

Within minutes my cellphone rang. It was Paula Madison, the general mananger of KNBC in Los Angeles, where I worked as a news reporter. Her voice was full of emotion.

"Kriegel, you're in New York, right?" she said. "Get on this story immediately. Get on the air."

Reaching Manhattan was a major chore. The Long Island Expressway was immediately a four-lane parking lot. Traffic wasn't moving, because people on Long Island were rushing toward the city in cars to pick up their relatives and friends who worked in Manhattan, but who had no way of getting home, because the authorities had shut down public transportation as a precaution.

"Look at the skyline, it looks terrible," said Gail who was in the car with me, pointing at the smoke shrouded skyline of lower Manhattan.

Indeed, the World Trade Center looked like it had been decapitated, and instead of blood there was enormous smoke and ash pouring out of the top of the building, and it was feeding across the downtown skyline of New York City.

Once we got close, a police officer told us, "Sorry, you're going to have to wait, we're not letting people into Manhattan."

I found a route, the 59th Street Bridge, that was guarded by a woman who was a parking meter officer. I showed her my news credential and she was nice enough to let us drive over the bridge.

The bridge itself was clogged with people who were walking out of Manhattan. Literally thousands of people who had come to work that day were forced to walk out of the city because there was no public transportation available.

It was quite a sight: People in office dress, suits and ties, evacuating Manhattan. I remember thinking, this must have been what it was like when the Nazis marched into Paris in 1940 and thousands of French people evacuated the city.

The next 24 hours were a fog. I got on the air. A friend of mine at KNBC told me he cried when he saw me report that "New York City has been brought to its knees."

I coudn't believe it myself.

The hard part of covering this story was just beginning.

In the next several weeks, it was heartening to see New York City get off its knees and back on its feet. But in the aftermath, I met hundreds of people who had lost loved ones in the attack.

Many of them continued to hold out hope that, somehow, their relatives were still alive, perhaps in a hospital ward somewhere in the city.

They would hold out photos of loved ones and ask reporters, have you seen my husband or mother or brother in your travels around the city?

It was heartbreaking to tell them that I had not seen that person in the photo.

I'll never forget going to a firefighter's funeral in the Bronx. It was an Italian neighborhood, and the man who'd died trying to rescue others was the father of two children.

People at the service were furious.

Afterward, one of the older men in the neighborhood started talking to me. There was fury in his eyes as he pointed to a store on the next corner of the busy street we were standing on.

"You see that place," he said angrily. "The people who work in that store were cheering when the World Trade Center was attacked."

"We're going to pay them a visit," he vowed.

During the next couple of weeks I continued covering various other stories in the aftermath of the attacks.

I never found out if they paid those people a visit.

Of course, the American military paid a visit to the people responsible for the attacks, and we're still paying.

Two weeks ago, I visited Ground Zero. There was a big crowd around the gleaming skyscraper that is being constructed there. Many of the visitors were clearly from abroad, including Muslims speaking Arabic.

Despite the pounding construction noise, there was a quiet sense of harmony at the site. The city and its people had recovered, and they were preparing to remember.

Ellen Vukovich September 10, 2011 at 09:51 PM
Like Doug and countless others, many images of that sad day come to mind. Perhaps, one of the strongest for me occurred a few days later - on Friday evening, when the entire country joined in "never forgetting." I was at home, and heard the sound of horns, sirens and raised human voices coming from Ventura Boulevard. What was happening? I grabbed my two dogs' leashes, and walked with them up the street to stand at the corner. There, I was greeted with a sight I will never forget - people driving in cars waiving American flags. People leaning out of trucks waiving flags. People riding on bycycles waiving flags. Pedestrians waiving flags. Horns were sounded. There was plenty of honking too. People were yelling "America forever," and more. Then, all of a sudden a huge 16 wheeler rolled into view, and the driver let lose a sound from that massive truck's horn that made the rest of the noise sound almost insignificant. It was an amazing experience.
LA Momma September 12, 2011 at 05:54 AM
Wow. I had such a different reaction to the extreme flag waving and nationalistic fervor that overtook our town. I was afraid of what extreme patriots would do to anyone who had a more subdued response. However, I was heartened to see that the whole world was waving a black flag in mourning and sympathy.
Elke Heitmeyer September 12, 2011 at 03:43 PM
People from many countries lost their lives that day. - you are saying: Of course, the American military paid a visit to the people responsible for the attacks, and we're still paying. Well, the people directing those planes were from Saudi Arabia. Yet, we went and destroyed the country of Iraq. Killing tens of thousands. Waging endless war on Afghanistan. I appreciate your comment, LA Momma, same feeling here.
Waltona Manion September 12, 2011 at 09:18 PM
Doug, What a life-changing piece of timing that you were there and able to contribute your reporting.
LA Momma September 13, 2011 at 04:49 AM
All we can do is hope for peace in our lifetime maybe more real indepth interfaith dialogue.

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