Dennis House: Remembering my 9/11 assignment - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Dennis House: Remembering my 9/11 assignment

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ROCKY HILL, CT (WFSB) -

For this reporter, September 11th, 2001 started out as an ordinary day.   This was before children and marriage, and I slept without an alarm clock, getting out of bed whenever my night-shift trained body would wake up.     

Moments after the plane hit the first tower at 8:46AM, I received a few phone calls from friends telling me what had happened.  I turned on the television and over breakfast watched the scene unfold, assuming like many others, it was just a terrible accident.      I watched in horror as the second plane came in, and knew we were under attack.

My first call was to Kara on her cell phone and we exchanged thoughts on what we had witnessed.   She was already at work.  Her 9/11 story is posted below.   I then got a call from my news director Deborah Johnson, who told me to get into the station right away and head for New York.   I showered, shaved and packed a bag for three days.  I was there for the better part of two weeks.

I took a cab to Broadcast House where I found the newsroom to be a hive of frantic activity.  The dozen or more television sets were all showing searing  images of both massive skyscrapers ablaze, spewing smoke.   Like so many Americans, I felt profound sadness and disbelief at the massive loss of life.

Crews were scurrying in and out of our newsroom, grabbing equipment.  The phones were ringing, assignments were being shouted out, and one young woman on the assignment desk was visibly upset.   

I was assigned to get on the internet and find a list of the tenants of the World Trade Center and look for any Connecticut connections.  I remember calling a few of those companies, but was unable to get through.  

At that point, Deborah told photographer Mike Kopelman and me to start heading toward New York and await further instructions.     The highways didn't seem very busy as we listened to WCBS News Radio 88.   I remember after one of their iconic chimes rang at the top of the hour, the first words out of the anchor's voice were "The World Trade Center is gone."     I remember trying to visualize how the towers would have fallen, and thinking they might have tipped over, rather than each floor collapsing onto the one below. 

This was my second trip to the World Trade Center as a reporter.  Back in 1993, I rushed off to lower Manhattan when terrorists detonated a truck bomb in the garage of the North Tower, killing six people and injuring a thousand more.     As you can see here, I stood fairly close to the towers for my reports during three days there, thinking how difficult it would be to knock down these gigantic landmarks.   8 and a half years later, terrorists had figured out to do just that.

We got a call to head to Stamford Hospital to await the arrival of survivors.   Everyone presumed the New York hospitals would be filled to capacity, and hundreds of victims would be treated here.   It didn't take very long for us to learn that would not be happening.    So we moved on.

The station wanted us on the air at 5PM, so our engineer John Discenza, set up our truck in the Bronx, with a view of lower Manhattan in the background.    After our live reports we moved into Manhattan.   Mike and I drove as far south as we could, parked the car and started walking toward Ground Zero.   We got as far south as Tribeca,  passing survivors and rescue workers along the way.   They were covered in dust, sweat, and dirt and couldn't even begin to describe what they saw.   

I ended up staying in Manhattan for two straight weeks.   The hardest part was talking to the families of survivors, carrying pictures of their loved ones, and days later they returned with combs and toothbrushes that contained DNA.    They hung homemade posters with images and stories of their fathers, mothers, brothers, daughters, fiances, husbands, and friends.   I felt helpless in their hour of need, although many frustrated and grieving relatives told me it was a consolation to them knowing pictures of their lost loved ones were being broadcast and the stories of their lives were being told.

I never tired of reading those flyers.  One night, Kara and I came across a fire station that lost nearly all of its firefighters.  The candles and messages written by children brought many passersby to tears.