For 19-year-old USF freshman Toby Skaria, Sept. 11 started off like any other day. He didn’t think he would witness the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
He was wrong.
“After the first tower collapsed, you could see the smoke just moved like a tidal wave over the nearest buildings in Manhattan Island,” said Skaria, who lived in Staten Island at the time of the attacks. “In a weird way, you could say that death loomed over New York City after the attacks.”
After initially getting over the shock of the surprise attack, Skaria remembered his uncle, who worked at the World Trade Center.
“He made it out safely, but during the whole day we never knew what happened to him,” Skaria said. “It was very terrifying and our whole family was very worried, but then relieved when we found out he made it out all right.”
In the days and weeks after the attacks, Skaria noticed a visible change in the whole city. Even a year later, there are lasting impressions.
“If I had to pick a visual image, it was the looks on people’s faces in New York,” Skaria said. “It wasn’t exactly the smoke or buildings, it was the impact on the people. The looks … were just ones of shock and horror. You could really sense an atmosphere of chaos.”
Skaria wasn’t the only USF student who was touched by the attacks.
Eighteen-year-old freshman Dave Finkel lived in Morris County, New Jersey, about 40 minutes away from New York City. He didn’t get a chance to witness the attacks, but he got an opportunity to see the skyline later in the week. The day immediately impacted him. He, too, had friends of the family working at World Trade Center that day.
“I knew right away, after I first heard about the attacks, that something was very wrong,” he said.
A family friend of Finkel’s father was on his way to work at the World Trade Center when he witnessed the first attack.
“My dad’s good friend lives two blocks away from the World Trade Center and was late for a meeting that morning,” Finkel said. “He started walking to work when he witnessed the first attack. Everyone was freaking out thinking this had been a horrible accident. He’s watching the building burn when the second plane hit.”
Sixty-two minutes after the second plane hit, the South tower began to collapse.
“He started running for his life, and he jumped into a store along the road. The debris came and blew all the windows out.” Finkel said.
Luckily, in Finkel’s case, he didn’t know anyone in his immediate family who died in the attacks. He did know other friends who lost loved ones.
“On Sept. 11, everybody was crying because all my friends had family and relatives in the building, and no one knew if they made it out alive or not,” Finkel said. “Some weren’t too fortunate.”