“It’s the smell that I’ll always remember,” Chris Carter said remembering his time in New York during and after Sept. 11, 2001.
“The smell and also the ongoing—like I said—day after day after day, week after week after week of looking up in that direction and seeing the two most giant plumes of smoke that I’ll ever see and that smell. And also at night how they lit it up with skylights so the workers down there could do their thing. It was just odd imagery and an odd an environment to be ‘going about your business.’”
On the day the towers fell, Carter had been sleeping in after a long night at work the night before. He said that he was awakened by a burning smell.
“All the windows were open and my throat were burning so bad that it woke me up,” Carter said. “It smelled like plastic burning or rubber or just whatever. I thought they were doing road work outside.”
He said that his answering machine was filled with about a dozen voice messages.
“So I started hitting play and every other message was ‘Chris, call me are you okay?,” Carter said. “Click.”
Carter said that he wasn’t able to make any long distance calls that day but managed to make a local call to a friend who informed him of what was happening.
He said he didn’t have a television at the time, so he had to go to his local laundromat to watch what was occurring.
Carter said after watching T.V. for a while, he rode his bike to Brooklyn Heights which had a “straight shot view of the Twin Towers across the East River.”
Carter described looking at the scene of the attack from across the river.
“It was the most surreal shocking thing,” Carter said. “It’s like losing someone very close in your life, you just can’t even believe it’s happening. For us New Yorkers, those two towers were our landmarks. When you got out of the subway, that’s what you looked for to get your North, South, East and West bearings.”
He said the wind carried the smoke, the smell and paper to Brooklyn Heights.
“It was raining—literally raining—paper on all of us,” Carter said. “All the papers from the different books, manuals just anything with paper—it was wild. At Brooklyn Heights in that late morning into early afternoon it was raining paper just like it was raining rain or snow on a weather day.”
Carter said that the smell that woke him up that morning would remain in the city for a long time.
“It wasn’t just the smell that day or the next day, it was there for at least a couple months following 9/11,” Carter said. “And us New Yorkers had to live and work and play with that smell looming around us. That smell was the smell of hundreds of thousands of pounds of burning construction materials, office supplies, paper, copy machines, ink and obviously—but sadly enough—human beings.”
He said that 9/11 was not something that “just ended” for the people living in New York.
“It went on and on and on, it was a presence in our lives for—it was still smoldering down there two or three months after 9/11,” Carter said.
Carter has since then visited the memorial at ground zero since it opened. He described the trip as “emotional.”
“I cried,” Carter said. “First of all, I just have to say they did an incredible job, I’m getting emotional now just thinking about it. I think it’s incredible what they did. I got on my knees, I put my hand on one of the names and I said a prayer and reflected basically on that time.”