Early Days at the Disaster
by Patrick J. McNierney
Like hundreds of other volunteers, I spent most of the week of September 11 at the site of the former World Trade Center, helping with rescue efforts as best I could. My particular background lent insight to some of the problems we faced.
As a structural engineer, I was familiar with the behavior of steel buildings, and because my father had been a Port Authority architect during the towers' original design and construction, I had developed since childhood a familiarity with the buildings.
My father had shown me the World Trade Center foundations being constructed. I still remember the view from the field office into the excavation for the five-story basement. Now, some 35 years later, answers to questions about, for instance, underground wall locations were as accessible as a cell phone call to my father.
The Morning After
After barely sleeping the night after the attack, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and knew that I had to go to the World Trade Center site. An expired student identification card from Columbia University and a professional engineer stamp got me through all of the checkpoints en route.
I arrived at Church and Liberty streets in lower Manhattan at dawn. I was shocked and amazed at the unspeakable carnage. The crater made when falling debris broke through the plaza floor was more devastating than could be imagined.