Wednesday, September 12, 2007

90th Floor Frozen, Even as Ground Zero Changes

Published: September 12, 2007

Anne Foodim, Manhattan apartment dweller, lighted three candles on her dining table yesterday morning, then switched on the television to hear the name of a slight man in a sport jacket. With a few soft words, some gentle squeezes to shoulders, that man, a colleague, helped save Ms. Foodim and others on the 90th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center in 2001.

His name — Ed Emery — would be somewhere around the 700th on the list of 2,750 read at the Sept. 11 memorial service. So Ms. Foodim absorbed the stately pace of the event, taking note of its scale six years after the attack.

On the first anniversary, she had been chosen to read names as a representative of those who had escaped. The city stood still. Thousands crowded the site, and others who could not get in stood on sidewalks, listening to the ceremony on the radios of parked cars.

Yesterday, on a showery morning, no more than a few hundred relatives and friends of the dead gathered on Liberty Street. Ahead of them, a grove of construction cranes rose from the pit of ground zero. Behind them, traffic heaved along Broadway, the soaring notes of a flutist’s “Amazing Grace” dueling with the diesel wheeze of buses.

The families hiked down a ramp to drop flowers into a pool. No one will make precisely that memory walk again; the ground will be built over next year.

Sept. 11, as a public occasion, has shrunk to life size: potent as ever for people holding photographs of fathers on their wedding days and mothers in their backyards, but unlikely to start wars again.

Babies are in first grade, children have graduated from high school, teenagers have finished college. Ms. Foodim, now 63, has effectively retired. She had been fighting cancer, and could barely get down the stairs that morning.

“In some ways, strange as this is to say, Sept. 11 was good for me,” Ms. Foodim said. “I didn’t know what I had in me. In certain ways, you could say Ed saved my life.”

The personal narratives of that day in 2001 were almost immediately overtaken by the cosmic. The initials N.Y.P.D. and F.D.N.Y. were stenciled onto T-shirts and hats, then onto the sides of munitions that were launched first into Afghanistan, where the Taliban had sheltered Al Qaeda, and later into Iraq, which had no connection to the attacks.

“I don’t know how the country could buy into it to begin with,” Ms. Foodim said. “Whatever happened to Osama bin Laden?”

Two presidential candidates, both New Yorkers, attended the memorial yesterday. One of them, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, was scarcely seen; the other, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, briefly spoke, quoting the writer Eli Wiesel on the need for a moral response to evil.

Other members of Mr. Giuliani’s administration were present, including his business partner and protégé, who was then the police commissioner: Bernard B. Kerik, who pleaded guilty last year to accepting $165,000 in home renovations while in office from a company suspected of ties to organized crime. In his path to the stage yesterday, Mr. Giuliani, whether by design or chance, kept well clear of Mr. Kerik, who was standing in a section reserved for dignitaries.

Ms. Foodim recalled the day six years earlier. She had gone to work, at the end of a long siege of chemotherapy for breast cancer; she was just starting the ordeal of radiation.

That morning, she said, “I struggled up the steps out of the subway at Fulton Street, and said, ‘I am so glad I’m alive because look at that blue sky.’ ”

She worked for Fiduciary Trust, which had offices in the south tower. When the first plane struck the north tower, she felt the heat through the windows.

Mr. Emery arrived with a sense of calm and command, she said. “Ed came running out of his office, and he said, ‘Come on, let’s go,’ ” Ms. Foodim said.

He ushered a group from the 90th floor to the staircase, and led them down to the 78th floor, where they could take an express elevator to the lobby.

AS she walked down the stairs, Ms. Foodim felt the weight of the moment, and the cancer treatments, wearing on her.

She paused on landings, exhausted. Through her illness, Mr. Emery had coaxed her along, encouraging her to get rest when she needed it, but welcoming her company at work. He had given her a book on tranquillity for her birthday a few weeks earlier.

Now, she said, Mr. Emery was talking her down the stairs. “Ed said, ‘If you can finish chemo, you can get down those steps,’ ” she recalled.

At the 78th floor, one of their group, Elsie Castellanos, who had also been working at the trade center when it was bombed in 1993, became upset. Mr. Emery patted her shoulder, and urged her onto the elevator with the others.

As they approached the elevators, they heard an announcement. “Exact words: ‘The building is secure, please return to your desks,’ ” Ms. Foodim said.

“I had been out the day before. I was always a good little girl. How could you go home, if the building is secure? Ed said, ‘You know what, it’s O.K., go ahead.’ ”

The Fiduciary group boarded the express car. “He promised to be down directly, but had to go back up for something or someone,” Ms. Foodim said.

Ms. Foodim and her group got clear of the building. Somewhere between 14,000 and 17,000 people escaped from the two towers, investigations later found.

Not Mr. Emery. He climbed to the 97th floor with another Fiduciary employee, Alayne Gentul, to evacuate a group of people who were working on the computer systems. They were trapped by the second plane.

For months after, Ms. Foodim worked as the Fiduciary representative at a family center set up by the city on Pier 94, helping with benefits and death certificates for the survivors of nearly 100 people. After two years, she had had enough; she attributes her own psychic survival to a therapist she continues to see.

She lives with two dogs and has a network of friends, women she has met over the last six years. Most of them are from her neighborhood on the Upper East Side. “I don’t keep in touch with anyone from Fiduciary,” she said.

She gathered with some of her friends at her home yesterday morning. She wept a little when the Brooklyn Youth Chorus sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at the memorial. And she lighted the candles, one for her lost Fiduciary colleagues, one for Ms. Gentul and one for Ed Emery.


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