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Iowans who witnessed 9/11 attacks reflect

BY ALISON SULLIVAN | SEPTEMBER 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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Michael Weinstock

When he opened the door and stepped outside, debris, ash, and asbestos fell like snow.
Weinstock went into the North Tower of the World Trade Center as a volunteer firefighter responding to the destruction on Sept. 11, 2001.

Though nearly a decade has passed, he still recalls the surreal snowfall. The substance blanketed lampposts and trees and everything around him. In that moment, he thought it was a dream.

“I felt all of the nerves and fear just pour out of my body,” said the University of Iowa alum.

He went out to unload rescue equipment when the tower fell.

“I ran right away,” he said. “I heard the noise, the man next to me, we made eye contact right away, and we just got it.”

But some were not as fortunate to escape and were buried under the rubble. Weinstock said as he ran, others stood still, gazing up at the tumbling tower.

“They just didn’t get it,” he said.

Now an attorney in New York, Weinstock said the years following were a challenge. And 10 years later, he feels the effect of 9/11. When the North Tower fell, Weinstock lost his best friend and fellow firefighter.

“It’s been 10 years, and I miss him every day,” he said. “I’m watching his young sons grow up without him, and I see the challenges they have in their lives without their dad there.”

Libby Tucker

Tucker was a graduate student in journalism at Columbia University on Sept. 11, 2001. In the aftermath, she and her classmates were sent to find and report the untold stories of those affected by the unfolding events. She watched as armored cars and heavy machinery passed in the street. Dust covered everything around her, and the smell of burning was heavy in the air.

“It was really overwhelming as a journalism student to never have really covered a disaster,” said Tucker, who contributed several pieces to The Daily Iowan’s coverage. “It really cut my teeth.”

Now, Tucker — who earned a bachelor’s degree at the UI — is the web editor for The Columbian based in Washington, and she will cover the 9/11 anniversary. And though her experience 10 years ago was a definitive moment in her journalism career, she is struck by fellow classmates who were not compelled to stay with journalism.

“I really feel like there is a civic duty to journalism and a real importance,” the 32-year-old said. “It’s hard for me to think of the number of people in my class who have not stayed with journalism, for whatever reasons, [but] who really learned how to be good reporters because of Sept. 11. What a loss that is to journalism.”

Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa

Then a U.S. representative, Leach could see smoke pluming from the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. As everyone else evacuated Capitol Hill, Leach ran in to make sure his staffers were OK.

“I was confident that many things changed [that day] and what that would mean for the country and for my family, and our world,” he said.

“It was my idea that a new kind of terrorism had been unleashed in the world and what was symbolic and somewhat clear and hardly focused on is that terrorism has existed throughout history, but this was the first time [this event] signified its globalization.”

As a politician, Leach took part in the country’s response to the terrorist attacks. He voted against going into Iraq and said he disapproves of the government’s swift and misguided action.

“It’s in the background of every issue because the world has changed,” Leach said. “It has appeared to have legitimized terror tactics of many different kinds.”

Christian Kurasek

After being evacuated from the White House by Secret Service, Kurasek stood in a Washington D.C. bar, watching the events unfold before him. Kurasek was recent UI graduate doing an internship at the White House in September 2001.

“The scenario of the White House being threatened with an attack was so far outside the realm of security planning that there wasn’t even a protocol for evacuating — our first cue was seeing other staff running across the lawn, quickly followed by the fire alarm being pulled and the swarm of Secret Service flooding the halls ordering nonessential staff out,” said the 30-year-old. “We didn’t know when, where, or how the next attack was going to come, and given the government’s epic failure to provide security that day, we had temporarily lost our faith in its ability to protect us.”

Tonya Lazar Ames

Public transportation can still be an uncomfortable experience for Tonya Lazar Ames. Smoke on the subway or a high security alert, she said, still makes her cautious.

“I’m very sensitive to that,” the UI alum said. “I have to get off the train … it’s been ingrained in me.”

As an advertising coordinator, Ames worked in the Empire State Building in New York and on 9/11 she and colleagues were forced out of their offices, leaving everything behind. Scared, Ames had to walk home to Queens from Manhattan without a cell phone or money that she had to leave behind in her office. Eventually, she met up with others she knew, but the scene before her, she said was unsettling.

“I felt homeless for most of the day,” she said. “It’s still very vivid.”

Now, Ames lives in Chicago with her husband and 4-month-old daughter. As a marketing recruiter for an advertising agency, she works again in a high-rise building. Because of her experience in New York, small procedures such as a fire alarm can still leave Ames feeling anxious to this day.

“My emotions are still so raw; it’s still easy to go back to that day,” she said.

Despite the worries she faces, she doesn’t let it rule her life.

“You have to get past it,” she said.


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