Volume 95, Issue 8

Thursday, September 13, 2001
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"Why would anyone do this?"
Western alum caught in chaos

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Western expert: difficult to assign blame

"Why would anyone do this?"
Western alum caught in chaos

By Erin Conway-Smith
Gazette Staff

Tim Vetter arrived at work – a software firm located in midtown New York – just after 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Vetter, a Western alumnus (MBA '92) was having coffee when a colleague told him a plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre.

At first, Vetter and his colleagues thought it was a small plane, maybe a news helicopter, that crashed. They returned to work relatively unconcerned, but soon heard that a second plane had crashed into the twin towers.

"It was clear at that point something big was going on," he said.

Vetter took the elevator up to the 60th floor of his building, to an office with picture windows where he could clearly see the World Trade Centre.

"I could see the big hole in the North tower, a lot of smoke and licks of flame – it didn't look real, it looked like a computer animation for a B movie," Vetter said.

He tried to return to work but found it impossible to concentrate. Instead, he decided to ride his bike up a path that runs along the Hudson river in Manhattan.

"Going the other way was a steady stream of [people] from the financial district," he said. "They had been told to evacuate the buildings, all public transit had shut down."

Vetter estimates there were 10 - 20,000 people walking North along the river.

"They were pretty orderly, all things considered – people seemed quite calm," he said. "There was anxious use of cellphones, people trying to find out the status of friends and loved ones. There was occasional wailing and outbursts of tears."

Ten minutes into Vetter's bike ride, he saw a large piece of debris "peeling off" the South tower. He said he didn't realize he had witnessed the building collapsing until about five minutes later, when he overheard two people talking about the situation.

"I was about twenty blocks from the towers at that point," he said. "I could see the fire close to the top of the North tower. It was clear the structure was being stressed badly by the impact and by the raging fire."

"About ten minutes later, the top floors fell in suddenly, paused briefly and then the whole thing collapsed straight down," he said. "Everyone stopped and watched [and] fell silent."

"There was a deep rumble of implosion," he said. "It lasted about ten seconds. It was eerie.

"A big cloud of dust started running along the ground, started coming up the West side highway. It came to within about ten blocks of where I was.

"There was some loss of decorum at that point, quite a few people broke down in tears wondering if friends had made it out.

"A thick layer of dust and ash was covering everything," he said. "About an inch and a half on vehicles, on everything.

"The implosion of the buildings and the subsequent fires sent a flurry of documents of every description – stock trading cards, financial reports, legal cases – fluttering through the sky like birds on a trail of smoke, settling throughout Brooklyn."

A day after the attacks, New Yorkers seem "stunned and numb by the whole thing," he said.

"There is negative space where [the towers] were. It's heartbreaking," he said. "Innocence has been taken away from Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular. People are undergoing a mental adjustment."

Vetter said he has also seen "outright anger."

Last night in Vetter's neighbourhood a man walked the streets shouting, "'God bless America, let's bomb the fucking bastards,' over and over again.

"There is a lot of disbelief. It feels like something out of fiction, Hollywood, but should never have actually happened. People are trying to wrap their heads around the fact that this is real.

"There is a lot of soul-searching – why would anyone want to do this to us?"

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Copyright The Gazette 2001