It's natural that we Americans should remember the great loss of life during the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. No one alive that day will forget the loss of life, but we should also remember the heroes of that day. The firemen, who raced into the towers and wore lost doing their selfless duty, are heroes all.
Until now I was unaware that there was a water evacuation of lower Manhattan. 500,000 people were evacuated in such a short time. The bridges were closed, the subway was shut down and panic ruled lower Manhattan after the first tower fell. Thousands of people fled the smoke and debris of the attack and raced to the bottom of the island and hopefully to safety.
New Yorkers could be forgiven for forgetting that Manhattan is an island but, on that day, that fact was painfully evident. There was now way off the island except by boat. People covered by choking debris began lining up on the walkway and roadway railings. The Staten Island Ferries were filled to capacity on every trip off the island, but the crowd increased by thousands every ten minutes.
Ferries and tour boats began nosing up against the seawalls and were quickly filled beyond capacity over and over again. The Port Authority and the U.S. Coast Guard decided that this extraordinary time called for extraordinary measures and the Coast Guard used channel 16 to appeal to every boat near lower Manhattan to come and help.
"All available boats, this is the United States Coast Guard anyone willing to help with the evacuation of lower Manhattan, report to Governor's Island..." Ironically, most of the boats that came had been underway before they received the call because they had watched the coverage on television. By the time the second tower fell, hundreds of commercial and private vessels were on their way.
The Captain of the Staten Island Ferry said, "As I backed out of the terminal a man took a running leap and grabbed hold of a railing. The crew asked him why he did such a foolish thing and he replied, "I was jumping for my life!"
"When we pulled into Pier 11, there was low dark acrid smoke that was unbelievable," said Captain Paul Frank, the 'Resolute.' "And then out of the cloud came people covered with gray ash. They looked like zombies but you knew they were human beings and the pleaded, "don't leave us, help us!"
"People jumped over the railings directly into the water. They were swimming off Manhattan and were in real danger of being killed by the boats that were coming in to save them," said a ferry crewman. After the Coast Guard's request for assistance and the arrival of so many vessels, the panic subsided but with every time a vessel backed away it ramped up again.
Tug boats, barges, yachts, pleasure boats of all sizes came. "We forgot the safe capacity regulations and took all that would safely fit on our boat. Once aboard, the people went silent and just stared at the smoke and the water."
Hundreds of police and port workers set up queues at 'fairly' safe areas for the citizens to load but in the video, "BOATLIFT - An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience," you can see that these places were still dangerous. Go to YouTube to see this inspiring video.
"Tugboats, I've never seen so many tugboat anywhere in my 28 years working on the water. One radio call and there were hundreds of boats headed to Manhattan," said a working waterman.
"Party boat, ferries, private boat all came to Manhattan," said the skipper of the 'Amberjack V' who was one of the subjects of the video. "If it could float it got there."
"They didn't care where the boat was going at first but later the boats started sporting hand painted signs with destinations on them. The initial panic was over and an orderly evacuation began," said a port worker.
At our country's lowest hour so many heroes emerged and proved that the American spirit could not be bowed by dastardly acts.
"We had people who never been on a boat before, housewives, executives and the best thing was everyone turned around and helped the next person onto the boat no matter who they were," said the Captain of the 'Amberjack V.'
"No one could have planned it that way!"...."You forget what you learned in school and you asked yourself what needed to be done,"...."When a wife saw her husband on an incoming boat, her joy brought tears to our eyes."
Tom Hanks, narrates, "The great boat lift of September 11th, 2001 became the largest sea evacuation in history, larger than the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II where 339,000 British and French Soldiers were rescued over 9 days, on 9/11 over a half million people were rescued from Manhattan in less that 9 hours."
"I have one rule for my life," said the skipper of the 'Amberjack V' at the end of the video, "I never want to say I should have done something.....!" And they all did!
Send questions and comments to boatguiEd@aol.com. God Bless America!