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911: A day I'll never forget

It's the 20th anniversary of 911, a day I'll never forget. A day when the world stopped in its tracks.

I was in my office in Henley on Thames, I had a big report I had to get out. Our assistants Jenna and Annelize came back from lunch all full of the news that a plane had flown into the world trade centre in New York. I remember asking them if they were joking. That sounds so insensitive now, but it was just too bizarre a thing to happen that I couldn't even process it. Twenty years ago no one had a smart phone, no one had access to the internet on their phones, let alone scrolling news videos. But they had heard about it in the sandwich shop and rushed back to the office to switch on the radio and get on the internet. The radio was full of the news and it was really confusing, they were talking about a second plane in the second tower. We couldn't figure out what the heck was happening, couldn't make sense of what they were saying. These were the days of dial up internet and we managed to get online but the BBC website was down and newspaper websites weren't loading; everyone in the world was logging on for information and the internet couldn't cope. We sat pretty much speechless for almost an hour, listening in shock to the news. I remember crying. All thoughts about the report I needed to finish were gone. There was no point in even pretending I could work on it. I rang my client who agreed that this was absolutely not the day to worry about deadlines. As all planes in the USA were grounded speculation on the news started going wild. What other cities in other countries were going to be attacked? The girls were both in the UK from South Africa and they were really worried about their families but couldn't get through to them on the phone. And then I remember that Mike was in London on a training course, in the City of London, the equivalent of the world trade centre in London. My heart sank like a stone as the news said London was on red alert. I couldn't get through to Mike on the phone so I sent a text but heard nothing. I didn't know what to do for the best. The three of us sat in the office, listening to the radio, trying to contact family, crying, praying, in shock. Then the first tower collapses. Collapses!! I'm an engineer. I was working as a risk manager for construction projects. I knew the risks of a plane flying into a multi storey building. But I didn't expect to hear that the tower had collapsed. I could barely breathe, I felt sick. Our little office was just off the main street in Henley and we popped outside to see what was happening: it was eerily quiet. Everyone was in shock. No one was speaking. Everyone was just looking at each other. This quiet market town in England, thousands of miles away from New York was focused on the horror unfolding to the people in that city. At that point I decided we'd close the office and go home. The girls were going together and I was heading home hoping I'd hear from Mike soon. Just before I got to my car he texted to say he was fine, they'd stopped the training, closed the offices and told them to leave London as soon as possible. He was on a packed train back to Reading. I could breathe again. Yet I couldn't breathe How could I breathe when all those people had died? And the second tower had collapsed And had the pentagon been hit by another plane? And another plane had crashed? And the president sounded like he was about to declare world war 3. I had to stop the car 3 times on the half hour drive home, I realised I wasn't concentrating on driving at all. Eventually I got home and switched the TV on and there I sat for hours. Mike got home and joined me, just watching the news in shock and horror and grief. There was no Facebook, no check in, no declare yourself safe. My dad and brother weren't in London that day, or had left, I don't remember which. I had friends in New York and thankfully they'd posted on our shared discussion board that they were safe. Who else did I know who might be in New York? That's when Mike said he had colleagues who worked in buildings around the World Trade Centre. And being in the finance industry he knew people who worked in that building. It was a couple of days before he found out that no one he knew well was hurt. I don't remember much else about that day other than sitting and watching the TV, overwhelmed with grief and shock. The world had stopped and then turned on its axle. What sticks with me most is watching the fire fighters, police, paramedics and volunteers and wondering how they would ever recover from what they saw that day. What they did that day. 7 years later we were in New York and visited a fire house that was now a museum. I remember hearing from a fire fighter who was there and feeling the tears running down my cheeks as I felt his emotion. I remember him saying how it's so important that we never forget. How could we ever forget? There was life before 911 and life after 911. Twenty years on and I know I'll never forget.

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