September 11 Survivors Remember

Will has occasional bouts of depression and despair, but by and large he's optimistic. He's had to keep busy, and that's been a godsend. His days have been taken up with a regimen of treadmills, flexes, weights, hydrotherapy, and stretches. Despite skin grafts and extensive reconstruction to repair the damage to his nerves and muscles, his leg is still a mess. "I'll wear a brace the rest of my life," Will says. "But I will walk again."

In Will Jimeno I see an iron determination to put the best face on things, and a certain resignation, the look of someone young who has begun to accept the indignities of his condition while feeling stabs of incredulity that this is the new him. If there was once a macho aspect to his personality - proud hunter, sailor, cop - it has been humbled.

The proportions of the tragedy still tax his imagination. The Port Authority lost more police office that day than any American police force has ever lost in a single day. Thirty-seven PAPD officers died, along with thirty-eight other Port Authority employees. Many of them were his dear friends. Will says, "I don't think I've internalized it, and I'm not sure I ever will."

He motions for me to come closer, turns his left knee outward, and shows me the leg. "It's getting better," he assures me. His knee is swollen, and the thigh is a swirl of ruptured blood vessels. The skin along his leg is cross-hatched with scars. In his thigh there is an orifice left by the surgical removal of flesh, a ropy-skinned hole that's large enough to accept a cork. "For draining," is all he says, and I don't press him further.

***

Will was working outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal that morning, a rookie cop policing the rush-hour crowds with his Mace and his 9mm Smith & Wesson, when he saw the shadow of a low-flying plane pass over Forty-second Street. A few minutes later, he received an alarm over his radio - a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Immediately, he and nine others boarded a Port Authority bus and sped toward the tip of Manhattan.

When the bus pulled up in front of the towers, everything was coated in a fine gray powder and strewn with chunks of metal and concrete. The carcasses of cars and buses smoldered along Vesey Street. The torched husk of an airplane part was stuck like a harpoon in the side of a building. People lay on the sidewalk, bloody, with paramedics at their sides. Even on the ground, Will could smell the jet fuel. From his years in the Navy, he was well acquainted with its sharp stench, and he something about how hot it burned.

Senior officers were looking up at the fire with tears in their eyes. Most of the Port Authority policemen had suspected this was a terrorist attack right from the start. Ever since the 1993 WTC bombing, the Port Authority had been an agency steeped in paranoia. The World Trade Center was expressly theirs to protect, and they were trained to be suspicious. "As soon as we pulled up to the site, we knew that this was a combat situation," Will says. "Only we were police officers - we were never trained for war."

While fussing with his his equipment, Will kept hearing explosions, one every few seconds, a ragged beat of concussions thudding up and down the street. He turned to look: They were human bodies, dropping from above, blowing up on impact. They sent up aerosol clouds of blood and left divots in the sidewalk. The ground became littered with body parts and personal effects - watches, high-heeled shoes, PDAs, a briefcase. "I've heard experts say the people were dead before they hit the ground," Will says. " But you could tell they were conscious. They saw what was coming."

***

With no medical training, Ronnie Clifford scarcely knew what to do. He sat her down on the cool marble floor, then dashed into the bathroom and ran water into a clean black garbage bag that he found. He hurried back out and dribbled the contents over her body.

Then he sat down on the puddled floor and tried to comfort her. Despite her condition, she was lucid. He took out a pen and notepad from his leather bag and jotted down her information. Her name was Jennieann Maffeo. She was an Italian-American woman from Brooklyn, single, forty years old. She worked for UBS PaineWebber. She was an asthmatic, she said, and had an extreme intolerance to latex. She could not adequately describe what had happened to her. She was standing next to a man she knew outside the north tower, waiting for a bus, when she heard a loud crash above. In an effort to protect them from falling debris, a security guard herded everyone inside the tower's lobby. Suddenly, she told Ronnie, something bright and hot enveloped her, a vapor maybe. She thought it could have dropped down the elevator shaft. She was worried about the man who'd been next to her. Surely he was dead, she feared.

Periodically Ronnie yelled for a paramedic, but no one came. People were streaming through the revolving doors now and scattering. Ronnie didn't know what to do, what to say. His new suit was soaking wet, and wisps of skin clung to it. He sat close to Jennieann, but didn't think he should hold her, for he feared that the germs on his hands would cause a fatal infection. He thought about his headstrong sister, Ruth, and wondered how she would handle this situation. She had once run a European day spa in Boston and had made skin health her professional and personal concern. She knew what vitamins to take, what salves to daub on burns, and she always coached Ronnie to take care of his skin. She would have known what to do.

Jennieann turned to Ronnie and looked beseechingly at him through her half-closed eyelids. "Sacred heart of Jesus, pray for us," she said.

Sitting in a pool of water, alone in the swirling stampede, he whispered the Lord's Prayer in her ear.

***

Anxiously, Silvion and Christine rode the elevator back down to seventy-eight. More than a hundred people were there waiting for express cars, tapping their feet, cutting nervous jokes. They lingered for what seemed like a long time but was probably only a few minutes. Christine tried to make a call from her cell phone but couldn't get a carrier. "This elevator better come soon or else we'll have to take the stairs," Silvion said.

A few seconds later, at 9:06 a.m., Ramsundar glimpsed a brilliant flash of milky light out of the corner of his left eye. The entire wall to his immediate left ripped open, and a pressure wave hurled him ten feet across the lobby. As he tumbled through the air, he felt debris piercing his body. He landed on his back. His briefcase was tossed in the opposite direction. A miscellany of tiles and sheetrock landed on him. He could smell what he later learned was jet fuel, and there were fires all around.

Silvion wasn't sure if he could move. He had cuts everywhere. He was bleeding from his ears, and had a long laceration across his jaw, with the skin hanging loosely from his chin. He was having trouble breathing. Something hard and sharp was embedded in his upper chest, and the wound was pulsing dark blood, a red coin growing on his chest. His left arm dangled lifelessly.

He lay dazed for a few moments, with no idea what had happened. The only thing he could imagine was that an explosion from the other tower had somehow carried over. He studied his wound long enough to ascertain that whatever had entered his body was significant, about the size of a deck of cards. He could neither lift his arm nor move his shoulder. Nerves and muscles had evidently been severed. He worried that the projectile had struck a major artery.

Then he realized that a person was lying across his legs. He sat up and struggled to roll him off. When he saw the man's face, Silvion knew he was dead.

***

Will Jimeno raised his hand to volunteer when Sergeant John McLoughlin, a Port Authority veteran who knew every rivet of the building, asked for men to accompany him into the north tower and start rescuing victims. The group quickly assembled. The four mean were preparing to venture into the tower when the second crash came, the United Airlines jet. Because of the spped and angle of the impact, this second explosion was much more massive than the first. The shockwave working its way down the building, like a thrum in a bell. Even so, Will and his three comrades gathered their equipments and pressed into the World Trade Center.