Edward Norvell: On Sept. 11, 2001, we couldn’t believe what we were seeing

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 9, 2021

The morning of September 11, 2001 was a beautiful fresh autumn day, crisp, a chill in the air, the sky was deep blue with wisps of clouds overhead. I went to work in my office behind the house when Kathy Naujoks, from the Raleigh office of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, my employer, called. “Ed, are you watching the television?”

“No,” I said.

“You had better turn it on. You won’t believe what is happening.”

I rushed inside and turned on the television in the breakfast room where I found my wife Susan glued to the TV. Every channel had the same pictures of smoke streaming from the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Then the television switched to a picture of the executive office building beside the White house with smoke billowing in the distance. Commentators said they thought the White House or office buildings nearby had been hit or bombed. The different television stations switched back and forth from close ups of the World Trade Center to Washington, DC, then to a long distance photo of the World Trade Center with smoke pouring from it, then there was a loud shout from the crowd on the street in New York as another airplane hit the South Tower. The image of the airplane exploding on impact was played over and over again. We called our neighbors; everyone was listening.

We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Estimates were floated about how many thousand workers were in the buildings at the time, forty-five, fifty thousand. We were in shock.   Then came the news of an airplane crash in Pennsylvania – was it related? Then it was announced that all air traffic was to be grounded.

Then it happened, the first tower collapsed. It was unreal, the photos of people running through the streets of lower Manhattan, the terror on people’s faces as the horrific gray cloud chased them through the city then overcame them, the thought of all those people, possibly as many as tens of thousands in each building – doomed.

The pictures were played over and over again. My wife was in tears; I was in shock; the cries and screams from the city chilled us to the bone. We knew what would happen next, it was only a matter of time and in time it came, the other tower collapsed just like the first, like a pancake. The buildings that we had visited a recent trip to New York, the symbol of American optimism and power reduced to a pile of rubble in a matter of seconds with the possibility of thousands of lives lost.

Then the phone rang. It was Jean Jones who worked for my parents.

“It’s your father. He collapsed and we called an ambulance. He is at the hospital.” It was too much, too much happening at the same time.

“I’ve got to go to the hospital. It’s Dad.” I told Susan.

“I’ll go with you.”

Recently my father had lost a lot of weight and was in a lot of pain, his doctors thought he had cancer, but we were still waiting for the results of the latest tests.

“What happened?” I asked Jean and Mom.

“He got out of bed today then he collapsed, and we couldn’t get him up so we called the ambulance.”

“How are you doing?” I asked him.

“I don’t feel good. The pain is a lot worse.”

He was on a morphine drip.

I looked up at the television. The pictures of the collapse of the twin towers played over and over again on the television. Soon we turned the sound down and could only see the images.

The next day the tests came back, he had lung cancer and it was very aggressive. He was gone by November 1.

September 11, 2001 was a horrible day not only for our country but for my family. A day I will never forget.