Notes and photography by Tor de Vries.
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I took these pictures exactly one week after the Twin Towers fell.

The Brooklyn Bridge was closed to most traffic, a sight I have never seen before.

Photo: Brooklyn Bridge devoid of traffic

The most significant signs of change were the smell, the barricades and the copious number of National Guard on nearly every corner, warily watching the pedestrians. Then, at the ruins themselves: the absence of something that was once there. Look up. See the sky? You couldn’t there before.

Photo: Humvee, National Guard, pedestrians

By tradition, Americans believe that their flag is a living object because it represents a living nation. One nearby florist put this into practice with a flag made of fresh flowers suspended over the storefront, maintained for several weeks.

Photo: Living flag made of fresh flowers

A reporter for the New York Post asked me if the threat of more terrorist acts made me reconsider coming to work. Well, of course. Everyone says that New York City is where anything can happen, but we never meant this.

At that time, my office was three blocks east of the former World Trade Center. The only damage to the building I worked in was to the ventilation system, which had to be cleaned out and re-approved by the EPA. During the weeks it took, we opened windows and wore shorts, t-shirts and dust masks. Lots of people wore dust masks; in fact, Lower Manhattan was sold out of them, and I had to buy them upstate for the entire office.

Other buildings were still without power. Some companies rented truck-sized generators for backup, dropping the power lines through the windows.

Photo: Dusty office building with thick power cables running to a generator.

Photo: National Guard, Police at entrance to street of WTC rubble

Until it shut down in the summer of 2001, a company called Metricom offered Ricochet, a wireless Internet access service. They had their own network of wireless towers scattered around the city. Former Metricom employees voluntarily revived the Ricochet network, temporarily, so rescue workers could communicate despite the near-total loss of land and cellular phone services.

Photo: National Guard and equipment near Ground Zero Photo: Clean-up crew eating lunch at a McDonald's booth

Many restaurants donated food to the rescue workers. Behind the McDonald’s booths were thousands of packaged hamburger buns and ketchup packets.

Most stores in the area did not reopen for another week or two. Written in the dusty windows were words of defiance from passers by, mixed with the signatures of hundreds of rescue workers. It was incredible to read messages left by fire departments from Upstate New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont, Maine, even parts of Canada.

Photo: Dusty storefront with messages of hope written in windows

Photo: Close-up of messages written in dust

Photo: World Trade Center rubble, with police

My wife and I were supposed to be at the World Trade Center that morning. We had recently moved out of the city, and I commuted by train on Tuesdays and Fridays while telecommuting on other weekdays. Monday morning at 3:00am sharp, I was startled awake by God telling me to go into the office on Monday instead of Tuesday. As usual, I argued with Him for awhile because I had a million reasons to work from home that day. He did not budge, so I went. My wife stayed home, although she had expected to join me on Tuesday so we could run errands together in the shopping mall beneath the Twin Towers.

On Tuesday morning, I prepared to work from home. Around 9:00am, I received a hurried message from my company’s president, mentioning terrorist attacks and an evacuation. We immediately turned on the news. There, live on television, we watched the second plane hit and both towers collapse. I was overwhelmed. My wife wept. God knew. God knew.

Photo: Police truck and workers, crushed building in background

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”

– James 4:13-15 (NIV)

Photo: Heavily-damaged building next to Ground Zero

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

– Psalm 23:4 (NIV)

Photo: Huge pile of rubble, recovery booths and trucks in foreground

“His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.... For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”

– Psalm 91:4-7, 11 (NIV)

Photo: Rubble, cranes, lights, surrounding buildings

Over three thousand people are dead or missing as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks in America. If you held a minute of silence for each of these people, you would be quiet for more than two days. If you wrote a letter to every affected family, one letter per day, you would be writing for nine years.

Photo: People looking at wall of photo memorials

Shrines of remembrance quickly formed around New York, many of them remaining even several weeks later. Conversations ceased as people passed by, looking quietly at the photographs of the missing and the dead, surrounded by flowers, candles, and words of prayer and support.

Photo: Wall of 'missing person' photos

“Secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers. Moms and dads. Friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.”

– President George W. Bush

Photo: Last wall of WTC left standing, holding up rubble

“This is not a time for further study or vague directives. The evidence of terrorism’s brutality and inhumanity, of its contempt for life and the concept of peace, is lying beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center less than two miles from where we meet today.... Look at that destruction, that massive, senseless, cruel loss of human life, and then I ask you to look in your hearts and recognize that there is no room for neutrality on the issue of terrorism. You’re either with civilization or you’re with the terrorists.... The era of moral relativism between those who practice or condone terrorism, and those nations who stand up against it, must end.”

– NYC Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, to the United Nations General Assembly

Photo: View of Liberty Street Photo: Ruins, stuck stoplight, bus commandeered by clean-up crews

The weekend after September 11, my wife and I drove up to New York’s Adirondack Mountains in search of anything not related to the attacks. Through the High Peaks, nearly a mile above sea level, the trees were approaching the zenith of their fall color. An odd juxtaposition tugged at my mind: death flew over these beautiful mountains on its way to New York City. It was there. Someone, unaware, might have looked up and watched it go by.

Photo: Sunset over the Adirondack Mountains

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To everyone who has written to me with words of support – European business people, Midwestern teenage punk-rockers, and many more – thank you and God bless you!

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All photography, notes and layout on this web site are copyright ©2001-2002 Tor de Vries, all rights reserved. No reproduction, exhibition or commercial presentation is allowed without prior written authorization from Tor de Vries.

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