Under Siege: NYU
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.
was pandemonium outside,” said Water Street Residence Advisor
(RA) Mike Grudzinski.
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,”
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.
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
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.” #
Blackley, Bill Lucia and Lindsay Noonan contributed to this article.
Brandt Gassman is the news editor of the NYU newspaper, Washington
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