Downtown New York, 9/15/01

by Mary Dorman <>

My dear family and friends,

I have just returned from walking around downtown New York. It is so grim here; an exquisite fall day at odds with the sorrow that is everywhere. The unreal drama of the events we witnessed on Tuesday have given way to the reality of the horror and helplessness we feel now.

Smoke continues to billow out of the WTC area and it appears that more buildings will collapse. The work effort is slow and now the word is that most of the bodies will not be recovered because they have been incinerated. The people of the City, like me, want so much to help. At the volunteer centers, all but skilled rescue workers and construction workers, such as welders, are being turned away for now. There are cars outside from everywhere in the country, people who just got in their cars, mostly male construction and rescue workers, to help in the effort. Men, laden with their own tool belts, flashlights, and hardhats, are walking around simply trying to be accepted as volunteers.

The national Guard now has a large, organized presence.

All over downtown there are hundreds and hundreds of color copies of posters for missing persons. The photos are of vital looking people at their weddings, or with their children, or at their graduation. The posters all said what the person was wearing that day, their age, any tattoos or scars...and what floor they worked on or were last seen. Almost all were from the upper floors. What was also amazing is that the missing are of all ages and ethnicities imaginable.

Now the death toll is upwards of 5,000. They have recovered only 500 bodies and those were of people who were rescue workers or who were outside of the towers. Now it is being heard that perhaps the bodies of those inside will not be recovered.

I cannot help but think of the unknowns, the many, many people who worked in the scores of fast food restaurants on the ground level. I am sure there were many undocumented workers.

Makeshift memorials are everywhere, at intersections, on hospital walls, in the middle of sidewalks—photos, handwritten prayers, cards from children, candles, flowers. They are also at each fire station, as NYC lost 350 who went into the tower after the first plane hit.

The hospitals now have an adequate supply of blood as it is not being used. The hospitals stand empty of casualties. They ask that we come next week as they want to keep the supply fresh.

The heaviest earth moving equipment I have ever seen is lined up along blocks and blocks of 6th Avenue. It is of no use now because the debris is so precarious.

I asked a friend of mine who is an engineer where the building of 110 stories itself went. Was there a deep hole? The towers were enormous. He explained that all the dust around lower Manhattan, 6 to 10 feet deep in places, was the concrete that had constituted the buildings. The tremendous heat completely desiccated it and it just blew away. Mangled steel girders that melted and shattered glass are all that is left.

Thursday was a day full of more disruption and bomb threats. Penn Station and Grand Central were evacuated, as was Fashion Institute of Technology on 26th Street where my office is.

On Monday, I will begin to volunteer with some of my colleagues at the NYC Bar to aid surviving families. My own Bar Association, NY County Lawyers, was in the shadow of the WTC and I cannot find out a thing about it.

Many have left the City. I myself did not go to Orient for the weekend as I wanted to be near my home of 27 years. For 25 of those years, the City skyline was dominated by the WTC.

Where Manhattanites often cannot sit still without a book or a paper to read, people seem to be sitting out staring into space, trying to grasp the enormity of what has happened.

There is no routine.

American flags are everywhere. On the subway, I saw what appeared to be a Mexican Indian wrapped entirely in a flag with his head bowed.

This will be a long recovery. Now they are saying it will take months to go through the debris. I know there will be a time when each New Yorker will feel that he or she is of some use.

Meanwhile, I send love to each and all.


Mary D. Dorman is a civil rights litigator.  She is happiest on, in, and under the sea.

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