The memories, sights, and sounds of Sept. 11, 2001 still remain fresh in the minds of those who were in Hoboken on that day 10 years ago when terrorists struck lower Manhattan.
The city lost 57 members of its community, the most of any ZIP code in the country.
Hoboken, a city filled with young professionals who commute to work in Manhattan, also served as a destination point on 9/11 for many of the refugees from New York City who jumped on the first New York Waterway ferry they could find to exit lower Manhattan. Some arrived in Weehawken and walked south along the river to Hoboken, covered in ash. They walked down Washington Street and piled onto NJ Transit buses in a staging area on Observer Highway or took trains from the Hoboken terminal to get to other parts of New Jersey.
A temporary triage center was set up at the train terminal to hose people down and provide first aid. St. Mary hospital kept a list of local residents willing to donate blood to survivors, but there were not enough survivors to need the supply.
“9/11 opened up a global dialogue in classrooms everywhere.” – HHS teacher Chris Munoz, a first responder
“The weather was extraordinary,” Roberts said last week, recalling his arrival at City Hall. “I remember getting to First and Washington streets and watching a few City Hall employees looking up at the sky. I asked, ‘What are you looking at?’ and one worker said a small plane had just hit the World Trade Center.”
Roberts walked to Pier A Park along the waterfront. Since the park is near the train station, many commuters who were about to head into lower Manhattan also took a detour to the park to have a look at the North Tower on fire.
There, they watched in horror as a second plane hit the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. After that tower tumbled to the ground at 9:59 a.m., police began telling people to leave the pier in case survivors needed to be brought there. The North Tower collapsed a half hour later.
After the first plane hit and before the other events unfolded, Roberts, a former firefighter, was watching the North Tower on fire. He noticed the smoke getting heavier, “and that frightened me,” he said.
Roberts knew that if the fire was not a serious one, and if the plane had been small, the smoke would have been getting lighter.
Then, Roberts said he saw a “huge plane” approach from the southern sky.
“You could hear the loud sound of the engines accelerating,” he said. “And then there was a huge ball of fire when the plane hit the tower.”
Teaching Sept. 11
On Sept. 11, some responders, instead of rushing away from the attack, made their way to lower Manhattan. One person who reported to Ground Zero is current Hoboken High School history teacher Chris Munoz, who at the time worked for LibertyHealth, the company that owns Jersey City Medical Center.
“I, like many others, volunteered to be a first responder that day and went out there to Ground Zero,” Munoz said. “My life changed dramatically after that day, as a lot of ours did…my whole outlook on the world changed.”
Now, his experience carries over into the classroom.
“What I really have to do as an educator is get the kids to understand that this was an attack by a small faction and not a large group of people,” Munoz said. “It’s actually surprising. There’s a lot of big misconceptions students have about 9/11. They say they know Osama Bin Laden had something to do with it, but some think that Iraq attacked us; some kids think it was Muslims who attacked us. Our fight is not with Muslims, it’s with extremists. As an educator, I have to make sure that kids have tolerance for other people.”
Munoz said that many of his students were only 6 or 7 years old when the attack happened.
“When this happened, I was 24,” Munoz said. “I was a young adult, old enough to understand what happened. With a lot of the kids I teach, it’s different.”
He said that 9/11 is important to teach in the classroom.
“9/11 opened up a global dialogue in classrooms everywhere,” Munoz said.
Police/responders on the scene
Sgt. Ed Drishti of the Hoboken Police Department made his way to Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001.
“A lot of guys from the Hoboken Police Department made their way over there that day,” Drishti said. “The stench coming from the site and the smoke, when you got there, it became such a surreal experience. It looked like a movie set almost.”
Drishti said when he arrived on scene, he and his brother, a fellow officer, received masks.
“The masks became cumbersome to wear, so my brother took his off,” Drishti said. “I said, ‘Put it back on. You have no idea what you’re breathing in.’ ”
Drishti said one major lesson that law enforcement learned from 9/11 is the importance of communication during emergencies.
In the weeks after Sept. 11, some cars didn’t move in Hoboken during street cleaning days, a sign of residents who did not return.
Missing person signs popped up around the city, with family members holding out hope that their loved ones would come home.
“We went through the process of more or less dealing with the victims of the terrorist attack and their families, and making sure they were okay,” said Police Chief Anthony Falco, who was a commander of community policing in 2001. “We tried to provide comfort, really anything the families needed during the aftermath.”
Family members of victims formed groups and established their own ways of coping.
Monica Ianelli, who lost her fiancé in the attacks a year before they were to get married, became part of a support group at All Saints Episcopal Church for those who died on Sept. 11 (see cover story).
“I think the support group saved my life in a lot of ways,” she said. “I had no one else to turn to.”
Signs of Sept. 11 remain throughout Hoboken, including at Hobson’s Choice downtown. Robert Wayne Hobson opened Hobson’s Choice in downtown Hoboken near the train station in the 1990s. He later returned to the World Trade Center as a broker for Cantor Fitzgerald but kept the bar. He died in the attacks on Sept. 11.
Linda Moran, a resident who was in Pier A Park last week, said she believes Sept. 11 should be a day for people to pause and reflect.
“It should be a day that we remember those that were lost,” she said, with the former World Trade Center site behind her. “Too many times in the media, the day becomes about the politicians or the wars going on. Sept. 11 should be a day for everyone to stop and remember those who died and to thank the responders.”
Lisa Frigand serves on both the New York City and Hoboken 9/11 memorial committees. Frigand worked in Manhattan on Sept. 11, and made her way back to Hoboken by way of a ferry to Weehawken. She then walked from the Weehawken ferry port to Hoboken to see her children.
“It sounds so corny, but it’s true that everybody came together for a period of time and felt kinship with each other,” Frigand said. “We’ve never even had anything that felt like an assault or declaration of war on our land.”
Frigand remembers that her daughter, who was 15 at the time, went with friends to the PATH station to try to help.
“She thought that since she could speak French that she’d be able to help out,” Frigand said. “Her and her friends were so cute.”
Frigand said that even though it took 10 years to finalize a design for the permanent Hoboken memorial, she said she saw the strength of the widows and widowers and it kept her active.
Hoboken memorial in Pier A Park
Pier A Park is the future site of a permanent memorial that will soon be under construction. The city released the details of the new memorial last week. The community had a temporary memorial, but it was destroyed earlier this year by natural elements.
“Hoboken was greatly impacted by the attacks of Sept. 11, and it is important that we have a permanent memorial for our community and visitors to remember, reflect, and come together,” said Mayor Dawn Zimmer in a statement. “I thank the Sept. 11 Memorial Committee, the City Council, and the community for their donations and ongoing support for this memorial. I also thank the National Football League for their recent contribution and welcome additional donations from the community as we work to secure final funding for this project.”
All of the Hoboken Reporter’s original Sept. 11 coverage from 2001 can be read on-line at hudsonreporter.com.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com