Friday, September 24

Spaniards in ground zero: “The images and noise of executives jumping into the void are never forgotten”

When José Luis de San Pío saw on television the first images of the Twin Towers burning on that morning of September 11, 2001, He knew that he would never see his daughter Silvia again. “He had been in his office, located on the 92nd floor. And because of the orientation of the tower and the place of impact … A few hours later they said there were no injuries. There were attacks with hardly any injuries, “he says on the other end of the phone. Agree to briefly relive the nightmare. Returning again and again to that fateful day is exhausting, but above all painful. Twenty years have passed, although for him the memory is almost daily. «On this round date, the memory

it is more intense, there is more attention on the subject, the information returns … It becomes harder. But I like that it is remembered if it serves to learn and provides teaching and comfort to other victims, “he adds. Two more Spaniards lost their lives in the tragedy: Jerónimo Domínguez, a policeman who participated in the rescue work, and Edelmiro Abad, a bank employee of Burgos origin.

José Luis de San Pío, father of Silvia de San Pío, one of the Spanish victims of 9/11, on the fifth anniversary of the attack – Daniel G. López

To José Luis de San Pío It helped her to cope with the grief knowing that her daughter, who was seven months pregnant, did not suffer. So did the support of his family and coworkers, as well as his religious faith. “I made several trips to New York after what happened, but I never went downtown. Until the last one, that I went to the memorial. And well, I think it’s fine, in the American spirit “, recalls this retired lawyer, who at 82 years of age still does” something “to occupy his time.

His opinion on terrorism has not changed with the end of the war in Afghanistan. «Terrorists seek a violent response to continue justifying their actions. Terrorism is not fought with more violence, but by going to the causes, including social injustice. In the case of Afghanistan, we have seen that these twenty years of conflict have led to nothing. And I am not referring to the work of the Spanish troops, who went to help and rebuild the country.

Luis Rojas Marcos, in an interview with ABC a year after the attacks
Luis Rojas Marcos, in an interview with ABC a year after the attacks – Corina arranz

José Luis de San Pío probably does not know it, but one of the most painful memories that Emilio Cassinello, then consul of Spain in New York, has, is the moment in which he had to accompany him to perform a DNA sample with which to identify his daughter. On the morning of September 11, oblivious to the chaos that would ensue hours later, the diplomat left his official residence at 9 a.m. «The driver told me that a plane had crashed into the towers. I thought it was a made-up catastrophe, how could something like that happen? When they reached the height of Broadway, I saw the smoke and the impact of the second plane live. I was horrified. The first thing I thought of was the dozens of Spanish tourists that could be in the observatory of the towers. Fortunately, they hadn’t opened yet. But from then on, everything was horror and pain, “he says.

Open 24/7

Hundreds of bewildered Spaniards arrived at the consulate, who wanted to call home or were on vacation, could not return to Spain and had run out of money. To make matters worse, both the ambassador to the United States, Javier Rupérez, and Inocencio Arias, permanent representative of Spain to the United Nations, were in Spain. “The Spanish offices were open day and night for a week. We took turns so there would always be someone. And then it was terribly painful to wait for information on Spanish disappeared“Says Cassinello, who from the windows of the building saw an endless procession of Americans fleeing on foot from Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge. He came to welcome two young Spanish women in his residence.

On Thursday, two days after the attack, the diplomat recalls that the wind filled the entire center of New York with ash. «And it brought that smell. A local poet said that it seemed that we were in communion with the dead. The ashes, the neighbors’ gatherings and the papers with the faces of the disappeared formed very disturbing scenes. In that week, he recalls in a more anecdotal tone, the secret services also appeared at the consulate announcing that the Spanish representation was the most unprotected, so they had to put up a metal detector to shield contact with the public. Changes brought by September 11.

“It was fear that saved me,” said one of the Spanish survivors of the Twin Towers.

Little by little, yes, hope made its way. One morning, a Galician, a painter by profession, appeared at the Spanish consulate, saying that he had escaped from the 112th floor of the North Tower after seeing the impact of an airplane on his twin. «I was going to go into a meeting and the deputy consul told me that I had to listen to the testimony of a Spaniard. We were amazed, “admits Cassinello. “It was fear that saved me,” Juan Palomanes told Alfonso Armada, a correspondent for ABC.

Emilio Cassinello, consul of New York on 9/11, a year after the attack
Emilio Cassinello, consul of New York on 9/11, a year after the attack – Millán Herce

Luis Rojas Marcos, president of the New York public hospital system that September 11, also escaped the tragedy by the minute. «I was in my office, in the World Trade Center, very close to the Twin Towers, and when the first plane crashed, the meeting we had was canceled. They created an emergency station in front of the towers so that firefighters could communicate with those inside the burning buildings. What millions of people saw on TV I saw live. You never forget the images of that day, they stay with you, but also the sounds, those of executives in suits throwing themselves into the void and falling into the skylight of the Marriott. Then I had a cell phone that stopped working, so I walked away looking for a landline to call the medical director of Bellevue Hospital. While I was talking to him at the Financial Center, I saw the first tower collapse. ‘ Later, he found out that none of the heroes he had been with at that first aid station survived.

A palpable trauma

Jimmy Sanz, owner of several restaurants in Manhattan
Jimmy Sanz, owner of several restaurants in Manhattan – J. Ansorena

«The impact was very significant throughout society. Here the idea of ​​being a vulnerable country did not exist before, because it had never suffered an attack. That feeling of invulnerability ended with 9/11. A very interesting and very tragic detail is that all the messages that the victims recorded were fired with affection. There was no room for revenge, “he says. “All in all, the trauma was very deep on all levels. I remember that we created groups of about fifteen people where the witnesses went to vent and share their experiences. He himself is grateful to be able to chat for a little bit today about what he experienced. Help, acknowledge.

Jimmy Sanz, owner of the Tío Pepe restaurant and three other locations in the West Village, tells Javier Ansorena, a correspondent for ABC, that, after seeing the towers fall live, he had a very bad month. «Se broke my heart. I took a lot of food to companies there and many friends and acquaintances died. It affected the city a lot, we had a difficult time, like now with the pandemic. I will never forget, we opened in the afternoon and it was a shame. And we were lucky because the wind carried the smoke towards Brooklyn. But the smell stayed a long time. This Zamorano, who arrived in New York in 1959, had seen how the two imposing skyscrapers inaugurated in 1973 were built. “I loved them, whenever someone came to visit, I would take them there. What views ».

‘Carmen’ was the only play that was presented on September 12 on Broadway, its musicians say

Precisely with the hope of doing a little sightseeing on their day off, José Alberto Ramayo and his colleagues Manuel Giménez and David García Ruiz left Manhattan that sunny morning. They were members of the band of the Holy Christ of the Three Falls in Seville, which was in charge of the musical part of the opera ‘Carmen’, which was to be performed on September 12 on Broadway. They saw the towers shrouded in smoke and decided to walk towards them. «There was a lot of commotion, fire engines, police … Then we saw the towers fall perfectly. Even when I tell it, my hairs stand on end. I was impressed because they fell vertically, like a house of cards, “he says. When they saw the second tower collapse, they moved further away and returned to the hotel. «We also heard that another plane had fallen in the Pentagon and we saw that it was not an accident, but something big. When I called Spain I thought that the news had not yet arrived, due to the time change, and I remember that my father and my girlfriend, now my wife, told us: ‘What are you doing on the street, kids, go to the hotel and keep there’. When we arrived they asked us not to leave the rooms. We had our ‘kit bomb’ with the backpack and the passport in case we had to run away.

José Alberto Ramayo, David García and Manuel Jiménez, from the Sevillian band of the Three Falls, before the collapse of the towers
José Alberto Ramayo, David García and Manuel Jiménez, from the Seville band of the Three Falls, before the collapse of the towers – Personal file

Music for hope

In addition to their memories, they have photos with the then smoky WTC. They also keep images of the hundreds of candles, flowers and makeshift altars that were erected in honor of the deceased and disappeared. “They applauded the police and fire trucks. All joined in pain and tragedy. José Alberto even kept a jar of ashes, because the dust “lasted a long time”, and a T-shirt with the slogan ‘I survived the attack’ was brought to Spain. Those who sold postcards of the Twin Tower, he explains, tried to sell them as a collector’s item. Every September 11, all the musicians of the band who were in New York that day talk about what is “their other birthday.”

“On September 12, 2001 we did what we know how to do, our music, and we were the only ones who performed on Broadway. I remember perfectly that the passion and feeling with which we played that day I have never seen in the more than 15 years that I was with the cornet. And what an emotional applause », sentence. ‘Carmen’ resonated like never before for hundreds of people who packed the theater, but it did so, above all, in honor of the almost 3,000 residents who could never enjoy it anymore.

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