In terms of real estate, the pride and joy of Hudson County has always been the panoramic view of the New York City skyline. Whether it be on the edge of a pier or the cusp of a cliff, the viewing areas from Bayonne through North Bergen have offered a quixotic peek at a city’s evolution. The glass, stone, and steel that make up miles of skyscrapers across the river have lured visitors and residents alike to Hudson County’s waterfront.
But the romantic backdrop became the sight of unspeakable death and destruction on Sept. 11, when two hijacked planes on a suicide mission plowed into the Manhattan skyline’s undisputed giants, the Twin Towers.
Reports of the first plane colliding into the north tower at 8:45 a.m. sent a wave of people to the nearest lookout points to see the damage. At Hoboken’s Pier A park and at Exchange Place in Jersey City, commuters who were about to step onto the PATH trains and ferries to the World Trade Center instead stopped and looked up. Eighteen minutes later, at 9:03 a.m., a second plane hit the south tower. Hundreds more people gathered, and some tried to reach friends and family in the buildings on their cell phones. Others were listening to radio reports of the additional attack on the Pentagon. Flames burst out of both buildings, and thick, dark billows of smoke hovered above.
At 9:50 a.m., the south tower collapsed, sending a quiet rumble across the river and a huge cloud of white smoke over lower Manhattan. Those watching from the New Jersey waterfront screamed, cried, and prayed. The tower’s identical twin to the north followed at 10:29 a.m.
New Jersey was far from a spectator, though.
The Hudson County shoreline transformed into the site of an organized rescue and relief outfit in a New York minute. Jersey City’s Office of Emergency Management opened within a half hour of the attacks, and each municipality followed the lead. Soon, the Hudson County OEM coordinated a collaborative operation amongst all the municipalities from the Jersey City OEM on 715 Summit Ave.
The Jersey City Fire Department sent four fire units to New York, and the North Hudson Regional Fire Department provided 20 fire engines and ladders as well.
Eventually, the state OEM took over and managed relief efforts so that 300 ambulances at Hudson’s piers could rush seriously injured parties to nearby hospitals.
For the people fleeing from the chaos in lower Manhattan, Hudson County became a safe haven. Ferries, cruise ships, and police boats shuttled approximately 160,000 people to this side of the river, where triages provided immediate medical attention in Weehawken, Hoboken, and Jersey City.
Covered in soot, commuters, tourists, and residents fleeing lower Manhattan stepped aboard the boats onto the banks of New Jersey. Hudson County residents and emergency services workers welcomed the fear-stricken survivors with water and blankets. Realizing that many of the refugees needed temporary housing, county officials converted four high schools into shelters for the night in Weehawken, Jersey City, and Bayonne.
Liberty State Park, the 1,200 acre plot of land in Jersey City that sits directly across from lower Manhattan, harbored many New York refugees, of which approximately 500 were in need of medical attention. Dozens of those were firefighters and police officers.
As the day passed and reports of casualties emerged from the clouds of smoke, the county began mourning.
Young commuters who had recently moved to Hoboken to start World Trade Center jobs were gone. A woodworker from Weehawken who was on his second day of a job on the 105th floor was gone. A civilian fire dispatcher from Jersey City was gone. An estimated 800 of the 3,000 people killed in the attacks on Sept. 11 were New Jersey residents.
A mix of solace and patriotism marked the following weeks as people attended outdoor vigils throughout the county with candles in one hand and American flags in the other. Once again, Liberty State Park became the a focal point when Acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco joined hands with Christopher Reeve, Ray Charles, and a host of rescue workers at a state-sponsored event that paid tribute to the New Jersey residents who had died in the attacks.
Under the direction of DiFrancesco, the park also served as a resource for families of the deceased who are in need of financial assistance, emotional support, and legal counseling. The Family Assistance Center will remain open until mid-January, officials said, with a possibility of remaining open for some time thereafter. For more information on the assistance center, people can call (866) NJCRISIS.
As the United States continues its search for justice in the caves of Afghanistan, Hudson County residents can not help but be reminded of that fateful day they looked across the river and saw destruction. The skyline still exhibits its industrious posture by day and majestic glow by night. But the absence of the towers, whose symmetry and height caught the eye before, now stands out most of all.