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September 11 one year on Wednesday, 11 September, 2002, 19:48 GMT 20:48 UK
The survivors

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  • Click here to read the transcript


    In a live forum from Ground Zero, we talked to people whose lives were changed forever by the 11 September attacks.

    We were joined by Fire Department Battalion Chief Jay Jonas who, trapped in the south tower, fell through several floors as the tower collapsed around him. He survived while eleven of his men died.

    Also answering your questions were Jessica Williamson, who was just 16 when her father John, a New York Fire Department Battalion Chief, was killed at the World Trade Center, and Dr Cary Sanchez, a grief counsellor from John Jay Criminal College.

    How do the families of firemen cope with their loss? What advice can counsellors give to help people live through such traumatic events? How does a person come to terms with the deaths of so many friends and colleagues?


    Transcript


    Newshost:

    Hello, I'm Peter Gould and welcome to this forum from BBC News Interactive coming from Ground Zero in New York. We're at Ground Zero as the city and the nation is marking the first anniversary of September 11th. One year ago today, 2,800 people died when the Twin Towers came crashing down on the site behind me.

    On this day of remembrance, we're going to be looking at the impact of this tragedy on this city and how people are now moving on. Our first guest is Jay Jonas, a battalion chief with the New York Fire Department who was actually in one of the towers when it collapsed a year ago today. Jay, we've had a number of e-mails from people wanting to know just what was it like inside the building when all this was happening all around you?


    Jay Jonas:

    Well there was tremendous vibration. The building collapsed in what's called a pancake fashion, which means the floors hitting one another - and every time a floor hit another floor there was a tremendous vibration and a very loud booming noise. Every time a floor hit another floor, the vibration was so violent it was actually bouncing us up and down off the floor. We were getting battered with small debris and there was also a very loud screeching noise around our heads.


    Newshost:

    We have an e-mail from Melissa Chesney, Glasgow, Scotland: How do you manage to get through each day after what happened? What is it that keeps you going?


    Jay Jonas:

    In the memory of the 343 fallen firemen - they wouldn't want us to give up. They would want us to make the fire department strong again. Nobody in the history of the fire department has had to recover from such a tragedy and we're charged with that responsibility.


    Newshost:

    A question from Kate, Manchester England: Your direct, frightening and personal experience of this event must affect your view of the Eastern world. Do you now have a preconception of Muslims as the enemy?


    Jay Jonas:

    I don't have any preconceptions about anybody and nobody else should either. This is a dysfunctional band of evil people and there are more of them out there and hopefully we can find them and bring them to justice. The Muslim religion is a peaceful religion and nobody should treat the Muslims that way.


    Newshost:

    The fire department as we know, lost 343 fire-fighters a year ago today. Apart from the emotional loss, which must be immense, how much of a job has it been to rebuild the fire department in New York?


    Jay Jonas:

    We've hired a lot of new people. Our numbers are up. But the one thing that we couldn't replace is the amount of experience that we lost that day. We lost some of the most experienced people that we had.


    Newshost:

    In terms of the department getting over what happened a year ago today, clearly the memories are pretty fresh aren't they?


    Jay Jonas:

    Oh yes. I remember very vividly almost every detail of that day. There isn't really anything that escapes my memory.


    Newshost:

    Talking to some of the other fire- fighters, over the past week, a lot of them are a little bit uneasy about this label of New York heroes and say they were just doing their jobs that day. Do you share that view?


    Jay Jonas:

    I don't necessarily agree with that. I saw a lot of heroes. If we have to wear that title, so be it. I am very proud to be a New York fireman. It was the most horrific fire in the history of civilisation. The firemen were swarming in and they even flinch. They knew they were under attack. After the second plane hit, there was no guarantee that there wouldn't be a third or fourth plane and they charged up the stairs anyway knowing that their lives were in imminent peril. I'm very proud - we are heroes.


    Newshost:

    At this point, I'd like to bring in our second guest here at Ground Zero. Dr Cary Sanchez, a psychologist, who's been involved, I think, in some of the counselling work that's been going on here in New York right through the past 12 months.

    A lot of people are asking in their e-mails, how is the city getting over this terrible tragedy and what kind of problems do people like you have to deal with?


    Dr Cary Sanchez:

    I think that we need to remember that most people right now, are what we would say, in a grieving stage following the tragedy of 9/11. And grieving is a very personalised process so it takes years and years for someone to work through it. Initially some of the stages are that numbing or shocking feeling - with people just wanting to deny what happened. They moved from feelings of intense anger and rage to excruciating pain and working through those feelings is very difficult. Some people wanted to deny the feelings but it really takes tremendous amount of courage and strength. That's really what we're seeing New Yorkers doing now.


    Newshost:

    We've got an e-mail from Carl Fahy in Ireland who says: My condolences to you all and the city. What are the effects of the attacks on the young people of New York and what especially you can do to help them?

    That has been a concern hasn't it?


    Dr Cary Sanchez:

    It certainly has been a concern and I think that the real concern is that young people - certainly young children simply don't have the same coping mechanism that adults do. They also don't have the same way of processing information that we do. We can process things and understand things in different way that children simply can't. So special efforts have been made to really reach out to children. I think a special call has been put out to the parents and we spoke to the parents, and said please listen to yourselves, take care of yourselves. Be prepared because if you're able to be there for yourself, then you could be there more effectively for your children. So pay attention to your needs, pay attention to your children's needs and if the need arises seek the help of school counsellors, they really are available and possibly on alert for any changes that we may be noticing in children.


    Newshost:

    Liza Percy, California: I used to love going to New York but I been able to return since last summer. How do people overcome their fears? I think the city would just be too sad.


    Dr Cary Sanchez:

    I think that's a really important question. What she's talking about is people's reactions and how they're coping with the tragedies we witnessed that day. Everyone is feeling different things. My advice to her would be, respect your feelings, give yourself time to heal. Let yourself feel whatever it is you need to feel so that you can move beyond that and work through it and take care of yourself. Pay attention to where it is you are and ask for support from friends and professionals if the need arises.


    Newshost:

    Ok Cary thank you very much indeed.


    Newshost:

    If we can just turn back to Jay Jonas for a moment. We've an e-mail from Karl Alexandrov in London, UK: Do you think that the media and politicians are blanket covering us all with an excessive amount of September 11th coverage to influence how we think about these events?

    There has been a debate in the US hasn't there about the extent of the coverage, how much it's on TV. Do you think it's too much?


    Jay Jonas:

    I think that's a very personal question. I think there are people who can't get enough of it and then there are people who can't take five minutes of it. So watching television is a voluntary activity, you can turn the TV off. They're not trying to influence anybody. This is the worse attack in the United States' history - this is worse than Pearl Harbor and it happened right on our soil. It didn't happen in a far off land. We're not trying to influence anybody - this is a tragedy beyond the scope of imagination.


    Newshost:

    At this point, let's bring in our final guest, Jessica Williamson. Jessica, your father John was a battalion chief who sadly lost his life here at the World Trade Center. We've a question from Jeff Stuart, Leeds who says: The fire fighters were very brave to go into those buildings on that day. They were doing their jobs. I would like to ask Jessica how her father would have reacted to being called a hero?


    Jessica Williamson:

    He probably wouldn't have liked it, he was very modest. He was very quiet. A hero would have been a difficult word for him, I think, in his eyes.


    Newshost:

    We've had a number of e-mails from people wondering how the families had been coping over the past year. I've heard a number of people say it's gone very, very quickly. What's your experience been?


    Jessica Williamson:

    It has, I can't believe it's a year. Things go by so quickly. It definitely doesn't feel like a year.


    Newshost:

    You've have just started college. You could have gone, I guess, to virtually anywhere in the country, but you've chosen to go to college here in New York City. Was that a conscious decision?


    Jessica Williamson:

    Yes - 9/11 affected me personally because it killed my dad but it didn't affect on where I was going to school because, the terrorist don't scare me.


    Newshost:

    So you think it's important to move on and as you say, not be scared by terrorism?


    Jessica Williamson:

    Definitely.


    Newshost:

    Ilyas Khan, Cardiff, UK: Dear Jessica, you have my sympathies on such a sad day, but I know you suffer every day without your dad around. The question I would like to ask in all sincerity, is: why do you think the terrorists flew into the World Trade Center?


    Jessica Williamson:

    Because the World Trade Center always stood as a symbol of freedom because it was one of the big symbols for America and they thought that by hitting those structures they could do more damage than they actually did.


    Newshost:

    Thank you very much indeed Jessica and also to Jay Jonas. That's just about all the time we have here today here at Ground Zero. It has been a very emotional day here in New York as you can imagine. One year ago today was a day of unimaginable horror but also a day of extraordinary heroism and I think a lot of people here today are thinking about that. Thank you for all the e-mails and once again thank you to all our guests and from here in New York, thank you and goodbye.


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