Report From Ground Zero:

The New Landscape

All photos and text
2001 by Michael Cook

The loft was in far worse shape than it had been nine days ago, on my last visit. With the windows blown out and still uncovered, much more dust and ash had subsequently arrived inside, from the excavation work across the street. Things which then had only a few millimeters of dust now wore a thick blanket of it. Objects on any flat surfaces were now hard to make out at all.

I located the trunks among the debris and pulled them upright, releasing huge plumes of dust. This was not a healthy place to be, even with a mask on. I fumbled
Near the foot of Broadway, which is as far as we got before the first tower collapsed. Seconds later, a wall of smoke and ash several stories high came rolling down Broadway as everyone fled in panic.
around for a few other items and put some paintings upright so they wouldn’t be walked on. On the way out, I noticed that a small cabinet near the front door had had its drawers torn out, emptied, and scattered across the floor. These drawers had all been inside the cabinet the last time I was here. Well, I didn’t think there was anything too valuable in there. But it was hard to remember, and at that moment, it all looked and felt like trash.

While attempting to navigate the large trunks and a few other bags of stuff I’d managed to rescue down the stairs, I bumped into some strangers and asked who they were and what they were doing in the building. They said they had been contracted to board up the windows (at the insistence of the NYPD I learned later), and gave me the information on who had hired them. It seemed that the management was finally taking some action to protect the contents of what was left inside, over two weeks late. Other buildings had gotten crews in, starting cleanup activities three days after the collapse of the Trade Center. This was a good sign though, and I left the building with a sense that finally someone was responding, albeit late, to our plight.

The police were very accomodating, and even helped to get one of the trunks down the stairs. Once on the street, it soon became obvious that the trunks wouldn’t roll over all the hoses and debris still choking the streets, and the cops actually helped me by getting an unused electric utility cart to ferry the stuff down the seven blocks to the parking garage. I was so grateful. I got a ride right up to the second floor where the truck was parked and managed to stuff it all into the already full van. Sandy would be pleased—not only that I got the trunks out, but that there was so much other stuff she could use in the van. Walking back up to Broadway, I crossed the police line again to join the Wall Street lunch crowd. They looked at me pretty oddly. I was covered head-to-toe in the dust.
Then we were abruptly detoured off Broadway by police, and directed down Wall Street--only this time, just one sidewalk was open. All around the stock exchange, guards stood watch, directing people onto the one sidewalk opposite the exchange building. Three layers of barricades blocked Wall Street itself, and no pedestrian traffic was allowed beyond this sidewalk. At this point, we were hemmed in by barricades, on a narrow sidewalk between Broadway and Broad Street. Trouble was, this was lunchtime, and I estimated there were around 1200 people trapped inside this narrow, one-block strip. It had been a mistake to come through here, but now I couldn’t get out, and couldn’t get through. I should have walked further south and tried to circumvent the whole financial area. I had no idea that security would be this extreme, and here we were—stuck, all jammed in like cattle, with no way to change direction, just inching forward shoulder to shoulder, unable to move. It was only a block, but it took 25 minutes to move through, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in such a density of people--even in the heaviest crowds at Times Square on New Year’s Eve. As I finally approached the NYSE, I looked up at the building, and across at the empty, tripled-barricaded street and sidewalks on the opposite side, and at the faces of the police keeping guard over this venerable financial institution. I heard the roar of helicopters overhead, and smelled the sweaty crowd of hundreds, maybe thousands of people, jammed into this tiny pen, unable to move. Then it dawned on me: “Ah, yes, this is the new America....”
As we passed Trinity Church, I took a moment to look back, trying to get some perspective on it all, trying to evaluate the damage, trying to make sense of what was happening. There was no sense to be made of it. I took this photo only about 10 minutes before the Trade Center Collapsed. Even at this point, it still seemed unthinkable that they would collapse.

Return to Artinsight