I don't even know where to begin to talk about today. I can't believe when I got up this morning, my most pressing concerns were being on time to my staff meeting and choosing the right outfit for a lunch appointment. I wish I could say I have perspective. All I have is confusion right now, and a feeling of shock and disbelief.
I got in just to the office on time for our monthly policy staff meeting at 9 this morning. News hadn't filtered to us yet that there was anything wrong in NYC, though I know now that the first plane was crashed into one of the towers by that time. My chief worry was that I had just found out my boss was unexpectedly home ill, and that I would have to deliver our monthly report. I jotted down notes during the meeting until someone popped in and placed a piece of paper in front of our VP for Policy. He read out to us that the news was reporting a plane had bombed one of the Trade Towers. We were all stunned, but tried to proceed with our day as normal.
I was in the middle of my report (about 9:45 - 10am) when we were interrupted again, this time to be told that both of the towers were hit, and that commercial airliners had been hijacked to do the deed. I couldn't believe the news. It was unreal. I could only think of the people who were on those flights, and in the buildings. My hands were shaking and I couldn't help crying. I pulled it together as we tried to go on with the meeting, delivering the rest of my report, to a room that looked as stunned as I could only imagine I did.
While we discussed my last point, one of the participants, who happened to be on speakerphone, told us that the news in his area was reporting the bombing of the Pentagon. I couldn't believe the series of revelations that were pouring in on my little world. The Pentagon hit even closer to home, both physically and emotionally - many of my coworkers have wives or husbands in the military, or know members of the civilian and military staff. I thought about how I had just traveled under the Pentagon an hour before, as I always do on my way to work. Everything about my commute was normal - everything about my day up till then was normal. Moments after, another VP entered the room and informed us that one of the towers had collapsed and that grave loss of life was feared.
People from my organization who had been on Capitol Hill for meetings and hearings ran into the building, telling of a near-chaotic scene at the Capitol Building (about 10 blocks from my location). Somewhere in the evacuations one of our staff was lost from the group, and two others we knew to be on the Hill had not yet checked in. I first thought of my roommate, a newspaper reporter, who was at the Hill to cover a hearing. I turned on my cell phone, to see if I could call her and suggest that she come to my building to stay while we figured out what to do, but cell service appeared to be out.
Later, my roommate told me she was inside the Capitol at the time, in a small conference room with the First Lady and Senator Kennedy, who held a brief joint press conference after the news was broken on the Hill. The hearings were canceled and within a short time between 9 and 10 they were evacuated from the building and onto the Capitol lawn. She was shuffled out onto the lawn with several staffers, reporters, and Senator Toricelli. She says they heard a plane, very loud and very close, but she herself did not see it (the news here is reporting that a commercial jet was seen flying very close to the Capitol Building this morning). Then they heard two explosions, close to the Capitol Building, and people started running from the lawn. I haven't seen this on the news yet, but while I was in the office, there were several rumors about car bombs being set off (my roommate said she only heard the explosions, and did not see them, and does not know what kind they might have been). One bombing that was reported by the media occurred outside the State Department, which is on the other side of the downtown/business area. The bombings my roommate heard by the Capitol Building may explain the media reports of a fire on the National Mall.
All the staff were called to room where my group had been meeting. We were told by the president of our organization the facts as he had them at the time. Downtown DC was a mass of gridlock and confusion as people attempted to leave the city and federal buildings were evacuated. Outside of the office, I could see massive gridlock, for blocks. Emergency vehicles drove on sidewalks to try to get around the crush. Bridges between DC and Virginia (where my home is) were shut down.
It was decided that the safest place for all of us to be was inside our building, as we were several blocks from the known targets. The closest federal building, the FBI building, was ringed by guards armed with machine guns. If I stood on the sidewalk outside the building, I could see guards on the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House, which had also been evacuated. From the look of the flashing lights and traffic, it appeared that some of the streets near the White House were being shut down, or people were being evacuated. Police and secret service were everywhere.
About 10:15-30, we were released to go to our offices in the floors above, and contact relatives. Neither the cell phone nor landlines were working. We gathered around tvs to see the news reports. I was utterly aghast at the devastation. Eventually I got a line out to my mother, to let her know I was okay. Our building was completely locked down - no one but relatives were allowed to enter or leave. They set up a room for us to be together with lunch and snacks. I hadn't had breakfast this morning, but I was so locked up inside, I was nauseous. All I wanted was for this to be over, to be fake, to hear the director yell "cut."
I thought from the traffic that I would be stuck in DC for some time, but the bridges were reopened and Metro was running again, albeit slowly. At noon, I went with other people from the office to a Catholic church down the street. Many people from the surrounding offices were gathered inside for mass as people swirled around outside, making for home by foot or stuck in traffic. I sat after the service, staring up at the perfectly formed dome at the head of the sanctuary. Sanctuary - the church was an island of calm in the middle of chaos. For the first time, I couldn't hear the whine of jet engines or the screaming sirens that seemed constantly to pass our building. I prayed that God would give me strength and clarity of thought to deal with the day.
When I left the church to walk back to the office, the streets were eerily clear. All the knots of traffic that had been there half an hour before were gone. Only one or two people in suits and shattered expressions walked the streets. Around 2, it seemed safe enough to leave the city, particularly as no other bombings had been reported in the downtown area. Getting home was a much longer trip than usual, as the line I usually take was shut down for obvious reasons - it crosses the Potomac River right between the Pentagon and National Airport. I was honestly more afraid on the trip home than I was in the office building - very few organizations want to bomb a think tank, but bombing metro would cause unbelievable chaos. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to go home at all, as to get to my station, you need to cross both the Pentagon and the airport.
Police and the military were out in force all along Metro, and in the streets that I could see.
Eventually I did get home, and found my roommate there, unharmed.
I'm still watching the news reports, and can't believe the footage out of New York. Hopefully, this is the end of the rash of attacks. Unfortunately, I've just received word that a colleague of mine was on the plane that was hijacked. I can't believe she's gone. I only hope the passengers were not aware of the intent of the terrorists.
Again, thanks so very much to everyone who phoned, emailed, IMed and prayed. I hope everyone has found their family and friends safe.