By DIA FLORES
September 14, 2001
As the devastating news of the hijackings and terrorist attacks in New York and the Pentagon swept through the University of Miami community, students wept as they told other students, frantically called loved ones back home and intently watched the news for further updates.
“This is something we have to watch because it’s something we’re going to tell our grandchildren when we get older. It’s just like when Kennedy got shot,” sophomore Andrea Sands said.
Every television on campus was tuned in to get the latest breaking news. It was as if a shroud of grief had covered the university with uncertainty.
“I’ve been very worried about the repercussions of living in this country,” graduate student Andrea Best said. “We all live in the illusion of being safe. This is an example of how vulnerable we really are.”
Many students on their cellular phones were trying to speak between sobs to family members, while trying to make sense of the tragedy taking place.
“We need to be concerned about keeping the American people calm. They (the United States government) might need to go under military control to prevent riots,” Best said.
It was as though the world had stopped turning. All normal activity ceased as students glued themselves to the television screen watching history as it unfolded.
Sophomore Susan Oliver first heard the news while she was driving to school. As she listened to the radio, the music stopped and the jockey announced the terrorist attacks to the audience.
“My father was supposed to fly to D.C. and I’m relieved that he didn’t,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘Oh my God! The World Trade Center is gone.’ I couldn’t believe it, it’s just something so surreal.”
It seemed as though every UM student knew someone connected with the World Trade Center who was potentially in danger. Natasha Antonucci told the story of her friend’s father who worked in the World Trade Center. He worked on one of the top floors.
“He actually walked down 87 flights and still hadn’t reached the ground level. He had to jump out of a window to safety,” Antonucci said. He broke his leg during the ordeal but is safe now, she said. “I’m so disgusted, it’s worse than Pearl Harbor.”
“My girlfriend woke me up to tell me that the World Trade Center was bombed. My dad works in Tower 2!” junior Josh Chaplin said. “I was calling everyone—frantic! There was no way I could reach him and my mom wasn’t at home.”
Fortunately, his father, a frequent traveler, was in Florida that day on a business trip.
“You don’t know what relief is until you find out your dad’s still alive. I don’t know how the people who have actually lost family could possibly deal with it,” Chaplin said.
Communications student Abigail Putnam was also worried.
“I’m very scared for my New York City and Washington D.C. friends’ safety,” she said.
For Manhattan native Gabriel Drekou the attack was especially scary. “It really just scared me, [I] just watched the World Trade Center collapse,” he said. “Living in New York, you take the buildings for granted. The World Trade Center was just always there, now I won’t ever see it again. It’s almost like a death in the family.”
Drekou’s immediate family resides in New York, and his brother witnessed the terrible chain of events.
“I was a little choked up when I finally talked to my mom,” Drekou said.
“I was overcome with disbelief and I hoped that my family and friends in New York were alright when I learned about the events,” said junior Bianca Barkley, who resided in New York for the past two years.
“Words just can’t describe this great tragedy,” said junior Jill Bleistein, whose uncle works in New York City.
“They’re making searches in Newton, my hometown. I feel disconnected because I’m not there,” Boston native Amy Salk said.
Sands first heard about the attack on her way to class. She didn’t realize the magnitude of the incident until after class when she saw more than 30 students gathered around the television, as everyone watched New York City in a state of panic.
As the wave of uncertainty broke on campus, students quickly bonded together to hold on to the hope that remained.
Blood drives were quickly set up in Stanford Circle and the Wellness Center. Long lines formed for donations and many students waited patiently for their turn.
“I decided to give blood because I realized that many people who experienced the attack will need blood and it hit me because my father does business in Manhattan,” Sanna Gaspard said. “And at this point, I don’t know whether he’s okay or not. He can potentially be one of the people who need blood.”
Every topic of conversation was the attack, there was no place to hide from the tragic news.
Feelings of fear and doubt were on everyone’s mind. The counseling center extended its hours until 8 p.m. the day the attack took place; the main UM campus closed at 1:30 p.m. and the Rosenstiel campus at 3 p.m.
The campus seemed like a ghost town on what would normally be a busy day.
“First I saw a fire on one of the World Trade Center towers, and I didn’t think it was a big deal because fires usually take place at least once a year in the high rises. Even the Empire State building was hit by a plane a few years ago,” said George Dafnos, another Manhattan native. “But then, I saw the explosion of the second tower, and I was in complete shock. What I really can’t comprehend is how the World Trade Center is gone. Now, when they issue posters of the New York City skyline, it’ll just be the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Tower, but no more World Trade Center. It’s just so unbelievable.”
“I thought it was a movie, I couldn’t believe that we were attacked. I just wanted to know everything about it, who did this, why did this happen?” engineering student Bruno Bravo said.
“It was as if I would wake up tomorrow morning and everything that happened would be okay,” Dafnos said.
UM students united in their fear and their hope. No one knew what would happen next and it was easy to believe the worst.
“When I heard the news, the first thing that I thought of is, ‘World War III,’” Richard Amini said.
Dia Flores graduated from UM in 2003 with a BS in communications and lives in London, England. She is a MPhil/PhD candidate at University College, London, where she studies Philippine migration.