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New York City
October 2001

Campus Under Siege: NYU
By Brandt Gassman

Between student evacuations, asbestos-contaminated dormitories and alumni and staff that are injured or missing, New York University was one of the local schools hardest hit by the terrorist attack that leveled the World Trade Center on September 11.

The collapse displaced more than 2,000 NYU students who live in dormitories located below Houston Street. On the morning of the attack, New York Police Department officers told dormitory officials in the Broome Street, Lafayette Street, Water Street, John Street, Cliff Street, Exchange and The Ocean residence halls to evacuate students around 10:45 am, shortly after the collapse of the north tower, a resident assistant said.

“It was pandemonium outside,” said Water Street Residence Advisor (RA) Mike Grudzinski.

“It was announced on TV that southern Manhattan was being evacuated, but RAs were telling students to wait because people were running down the street screaming. There was dust and soot everywhere,” he said.

The evacuated dorms were all within 20 blocks of the disaster site. Many students living near the WTC were still asleep when the first Boeing 767 slammed into the north tower at 8:45 am “It was about nine am and I heard a loud sound, like a bomb,” Water Street resident Kelly Hoover said. “I looked out my window and saw the top 20 stories [of the north tower] burning.”

Brian Foster, another Water Street resident, said he woke up after the shock waves from the second plane crash shook the dormitory violently. He threw on his clothes and ran towards the twin towers for a firsthand glimpse. “I saw a person jump out of the south tower” he said. “Everybody was standing around went into hysterics.” As Foster attempted to turn around and head east, he only made it a few feet from the intersection when the south tower caved in. “It made a loud crackling noise and then a loud roar,” he said. “The worst sound I’ve ever heard. At that point everybody was running,” he said. “I was watching out my window for an hour, then there was smoke in the hallways and I got really nervous,” resident Laura Garrett said. “When the second tower collapsed a guy came to our room yelling, ‘Get the hell out.’”

University administrators cancelled classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, “consistent” with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s closure of the city below 14th Street, although the University itself remained open in order to “provide essential services to students,” according to updates on the NYU website.

About 1,800 students, all from dormitories in the financial district, remained without a place to sleep or access to personal possessions, despite the fact that administrators announced classes would resume on Friday, Sept. 14. As a result, Office of Housing and Residence Life officials and University administrators assembled a package for displaced students that included lodging at one of two uptown hotels for the duration of the closures, $200 in cash to buy clothes and other necessities, free replacement course books, a free meal plan, a phone card and a free replacement NYU ID. NYU Vice President of Student Affairs Lynne P. Brown said the plan would likely cost the University “millions of dollars.”

By Monday, displaced students were assigned a roommate and a room in either the Sheraton New York or Park Central Hotel, and some students were also assigned to vacant spaces in University residence halls, which required administrators to purchase additional bedding. Before students were allowed to return home, administrators arranged for environmental testing to be done in all rooms that had any sort of exposure to dust from the WTC collapse. Subsequent to professional cleanings, the buildings underwent structural examinations by city and University inspectors to ensure their structural integrity, and fire safety systems were tested.

Although University administrators said on Sept. 11 that no members of the NYU community were injured or killed in the collapse, by the following week it became clear that the community had not gone unharmed by the attack. NYU Protection Services officer James Leahy was on duty with the NYPD on Sept. 11 and arrived at the WTC moments after the first plane crashed into the north tower of the complex. Patricia Phalean, a Protection Services officer and friend of Leahy’s, said he called his sister moments before the collapse of the tower and told her he thought he was trapped. Leahy remains unaccounted for.

“That was the type of guy he was,” Phalean said. “He would help anybody, he wanted to help the people inside that building and he never came out.”

Leahy worked as both a Protection Services officer and an NYPD officer in the sixth precinct to support his three sons, Phalean said. David Handschuh, an adjunct professor in the Journalism department at NYU and a photographer for the New York Daily News, was taking photos 100 yards away when the south tower began to collapse. “I brought my camera to my eye but then something in the back of my head said ‘run, run, run,’” Handshuh said. Handschuh was thrown under a truck on West Street before two firefighters from Engine Companies 217 and 131 and a paramedic pulled him into a deli, as debris landed in the spot he was lying only moments before. He suffered a broken leg in the incident and is currently recuperating at home.

At a groundbreaking for a new law school building on Sept. 28, incoming NYU President John Sexton said the law school alone lost five of its alumni in the rubble of the twin towers, including Chris Quackenbush, who Sexton ate dinner with on the evening of the 10th, and John Perry, a former research assistant of Sexton’s. “We cannot ignore the context in which this celebration of our institution occurs,” Sexton said, adding that the groundbreaking was “the first constructive act of building since Sept. 11 in this city.” #

Michelle Blackley, Bill Lucia and Lindsay Noonan contributed to this article. Brandt Gassman is the news editor of the NYU newspaper, Washington Square News.


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