Part 2 Stranded In A City Attacked by Terrorists
Tuesday 11 September
Even though it was late when we got back to our hotel, we decide to get up early. During our time here we have seen the huge queue at the checkout desk every morning and we don’t want to waste any of the short time we have left in a hotel queue. Our flights back to Ireland and Scotland are in the evening, so we decide to check out of the hotel around 8 am and go straight to The Palace Hotel. Our plan is to spend most of the day with the other fans and then go to the airport in the afternoon.
We eventually get to The Palace Hotel around 8.30 am. We find a spot to put our luggage and spread out our flags and banners on top of the cases. There are a few fans around, who are lying on the ground, looking up at the sky but as many were here late last night, most fans are in bed in their hotels.
Around 9 am, I decide to do a breakfast run. As we had our luggage with us this morning, we didn't stop for our usual breakfast on the way to The Palace Hotel. I decide to go to the deli on Madison Avenue, around the corner from The Palace Hotel.
As I walk down the street there’s a strange atmosphere, people are running. Suddenly I look up, down Madison Avenue and in the distance, way at the end of the island where The Statue of Liberty is I see a huge mushroom of smoke. My brain takes a few minutes to register what I am seeing. All around me, people are screaming, running down the street pointing to the smoke in the sky.
Something in me recognizes something very bad has happened and I run back to my friends at The Palace Hotel, all thoughts of food forgotten.
All the fans know something has happened but we don’t know what. Some fans have Walkman’s and turn on the radio, we try to ask people in the streets and shops but we don’t fully understand what is going on. All around us people are running and screaming.
Finally I decide to go into The Palace Hotel and ask the hotel reception. At last someone tells me the horrible truth, that terrorists have attacked New York and flown planes into The World Trade Centre. When I tell her that many of us were due to fly home to Europe today, she tells me that the airports are closed and that we will not be going home today. Her advice was to go back to the hotel we had just left and make sure we have somewhere safe for tonight and that we can work out what to do tomorrow.
In shock I go back out to my friends who have also found out the horrible truth. I kick into survival mode and tell my friends to stay at The Palace Hotel with our luggage. We have to have somewhere safe tonight, that’s the most important thing right now. So about 10 am I leave the Palace Hotel and make my way back to our hotel. As I walk through the streets of Manhattan, through Times Square and back to Madison Square Gardens, I don’t really take in what I’m seeing and experiencing. All around me, people are screaming, running, pointing to the sky. As I pass Grand Central Station, people are pouring out, the trains have been stopped, streams of people heading to the bridges, trying to get off the island, and all the while a never ending scream of emergency vehicles and police car sirens.
When I get to the hotel, there’s a huge queue of people. It seems many people have realized that they need somewhere to stay tonight. The hotel staff keep going up and down the queue, telling people if they don’t have a reservation than they won’t get a room. Every time a staff member comes near me, I explain my situation, that I just checked out this morning, that we are from Europe, due to fly home today but now cant as the airports are closed. All that’s in my mind is that I have to get a room, I have to make sure me and my friends are safe tonight. Slowly, slowly the line moves. I don’t even notice that I haven’t eaten today, or the scared chatter of the other people in the queue or even think about how we are going to get home. Nothing else matters, I just have to get a room and be safe. All else can be sorted later.
Eventually I get to the top of the queue and I’m at last talking to the desk staff. Again I repeat my story, how we have to have a room, that we have been staying for the last week and we only checked out this morning. A few minutes later, I leave the hotel with 3 room keys. I did it; I got us somewhere to stay tonight and not just tonight but for as long as we need to stay. The lady behind the desk even managed to put us back into the same room we had left that morning.
As I leave the hotel, I look at my watch. I can’t believe it, it’s nearly 3 pm!! It’s taken me over 4 hours to to reach the top of the queue. I still haven’t eaten but I know I have to go back to The Palace Hotel as quick as I can. I’m sure everyone must be worried as I have been gone so long. I didn't think it would take this long to get a room for us.
As I race back to The Palace Hotel, the streets are not as crowded but there is a very strong smell of smoke in the air and the sirens have not stopped.
When I get to The Palace Hotel, all the fans are there. My friends have been worried about me but they are so relived that I managed to get somewhere for us to stay. Finally I think about ringing my family. Up till now I was in survival mode, had to make sure we were safe and had no time or chance to ring my family. As soon as I can I join the queue of other fans at the payphone on the corner opposite The Palace Hotel. While I’m in the queue, my friends tell me that Michael is leaving soon. Just as I start to use the phone, I hear the fans scream and run to the hotel. As I talk to my family and let them know I’m OK I see Michael's car come out of the hotel garage, and through the back window of the car I see Michael and the children waving as the car goes down the street.
After I finish talking to my family, all the fans just stay at The Palace Hotel. It’s now nearly 4 pm. I tell my friends about my adventure getting our hotel room back. We decide to stay at the Palace Hotel for the rest of the day. Even though Michael has gone, we don’t want to leave. There are about 50 of us from many countries and we don’t know where to go or what to do. All we know is that we will not be going home today. Many of us are running out of money as this was supposed to be the end of our trip. We wander off to get food and bring our luggage back to our hotel, but we feel safest all together, in a familiar place, outside The Palace Hotel.
As night falls, we know we have to go back to our hotels. Some fans have not been as lucky as us and don’t have a hotel room. We all try to make sure everyone has somewhere to stay, those of us with hotel rooms helping out those who don’t. Just before we leave for the night, we see Michael’s bodyguards walking across the street towards us. They tell us that Michael has told them to check we are all OK They tell us he and the children are safe, that they are in New Jersey and that Michael is worried about us. We tell them most of us have a hotel room and that we are looking after those who don’t. Is this real, is Michael Jackson really making sure we are OK has he really instructed his staff to check up on us???? This day has been too much, how can all this be happening to us….
The bodyguards stay out with us for a while, getting to know us, asking us where we are from. Once they go back into the hotel we all agree it’s time to leave. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but we all agree to meet back here in our usual place, at The Palace Hotel. It’s the only way we can stay in contact, the only way we can share information and make sure everyone is OK and its a good idea to have a central point we all know and feel relatively safe at.
We go back to our hotel, bringing with us one of the fans who had no hotel room. The walk back to our hotel, a walk we have done so many times over the last week feels very different now. The streets are very quiet, too quiet. This is New York, the city that never sleeps, yet as we walk through Times Square, there are very few people and no cars. The majority of the huge billboards are in not on. Other than the screaming emergency vehicle sirens, Times Square is silent and in darkness.
We go back to our hotel room and try to make sense of the day. We do not know what tomorrow will bring or when we will get home. We try to watch TV, to find out what’s real and what’s not. It very odd to hear the sirens outside being echoed on TV. Exhausted we try to get some sleep. Before we turn the lights off we make a pile of our clothes, money and passport, just in case the hotel evacuation sirens go off in the middle of the night.
Wednesday 12 September
The first thing we hear as we wake are the never-ending emergency vehicle sirens, a constant reminder that yesterday was real and we are still in New York. Numbly we get dressed and head back out to The Palace Hotel. We don’t know where else to go. We don’t feel safe in our hotel and we don’t feel safe outside.
When we get to The Palace Hotel, we see most of the fans are there. We find out that after everyone left last night, some fans were left, who had no hotel room. They tell us that Michael’s bodyguards came back out and when they heard that they had nowhere to go, they rang Michael. Unbelievably Michael told the bodyguards to bring the fans into the hotel and let them stay in his suite. Is this real, Michael Jackson taking care of us, Michael Jackson making sure fans are safe???
We share information, food, try to make sense of what’s going on. Mostly we just sit around, too scared to go anywhere else. The pay phone at the corner of the street becomes our only lifeline to the outside world. There is a constant queue of fans using it, ringing airlines, ringing family, trying to get home. A lot of the times the calls don’t even get put through, the phone networks drop out randomly and phones calls get cut off.
In the afternoon Michael's bodyguards come back out to see us. They bring us food from the hotel; try to help us get airline information. They tell us Michael has told them to stay and make sure we are OK until the airports have opened and we can go home.
Again we all stay together at The Palace Hotel until it gets dark. Again we try to make sure that everyone has somewhere to stay, and again we bring another fan back with us to our hotel.
Just like the night before we turn on the TV, to see what’s on the news, to see if there is any new information about the airports. Before we turn off the light we make our clothes pile with our money and passports just in case the hotel evacuation sirens go off in the middle of the night. Almost every building in central Manhattan has had hoax bomb threats today and we have heard from other fans that hotel evacuation sirens can happen at any time.
Thursday 13 September
Another day of the same. Waking up to the sirens on the streets, making our way back though a city which has turned into a war zone to meet up with the fans at The Palace Hotel, everyone on the pay phone to airlines and families, trying to get back home. In the afternoon the bodyguards come out to us.
How much longer can this go on, how much longer will we be stranded in a city under attack??
Thursday turns into Friday…..
Finally a breakthrough, we find out the airports will be opening tomorrow, Saturday 15 September. We ring airlines, our families, make sure that we are re-booked on a flight home.
Unfortunately as the airports have been closed for 4 days there is a huge backlog of stranded people and most fans don’t get flights home the day the airports reopen. Somehow I and Jenny have managed to get on the first flight out of New York back to Ireland. We are the lucky ones, we are the first of the fans to make it home.
We arrive back in Ireland Sunday 16 September, 5 days after the life changing events of Tuesday September 11 2001.
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