On 11 September, 2001, I was in Manhattan, on my way to have breakfast at the top of the World Trade Center’s north tower before a 9.30am meeting in the south tower, BBC correspondent Stephen Evans told Radio 4’s Today. But I popped into a Cuban coffee shop instead. “Coffee and pastries delayed me just enough.” As I entered the south tower’s lobby at 8.46, the first plane struck the north tower “with an almighty metallic crash”. I ran from the dust-filled lobby to see “the gash where the first plane had gone in, flames coming out”.
I rang in a live report from a newsagent at the base of the tower, but was kicked out when, at 9.03, a plane struck the south tower. Evacuated from a nearby hotel when the south tower collapsed at 9.59, I found myself in the street as the other tower collapsed half an hour later. “The debris exploded towards me… It was the only moment of true, in your guts, fear.” But I outran the dust cloud, jumping into a cab with a Chinese-American woman – who suddenly said she was going into labour, giving me a piece of paper with her husband’s number. “I’m ashamed to say I lost the paper in the turmoil.”
A few evenings later, I visited my regular pub, a narrow bar on 11th Street. It was dark, packed, but subdued. The barman “clasped both my hands in his and just held them tight”. Strangers did that in the days after 9/11. The American flag was flying everywhere, so I bought a Stars and Stripes sweater and puffed out my chest “in defiance and pride”. I still stand in solidarity with “a great, mongrel modern city which defied those zealots”.
Listen to Evans’s story here.