NEW YORK—Under a cloudless, blue sky family members, first responders, and survivors gathered at the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan for the annual reading of the names of the 2,983 people killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
For survivor Tom Canavan, this year was different.
“Every other year feels like a wake. This year because the memorial was open, there was space, kids playing, it was more like a real memorial service,” Canavan said. “It was more of a celebration to remember people than it was to go there and mourn.”
Canavan miraculously survived when the South Tower collapsed on top of him while he was in an underground concourse. He enjoyed the simplicity of this year’s ceremony that lacked speeches by politicians as in years past. “It wasn’t about them [politicians]. The focus was about remembering the people.”
After the ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan, Canavan and about 20 members of the World Trade Center Survivors Network gathered at Memorial Grove near the Brooklyn Bridge to share hugs, smiles, and stories near one of the survivor trees.
Canavan said he enjoys the group because it allows him to channel his surreal memories from that day into something positive and to help those who are still struggling with the pain of losing loved ones 11 years later.
Canavan worked on the 47th floor of the North Tower in the foreign trading department at First Union Bank. He said he had to secure the bonds and money and couldn’t evacuate right away.
With no knowledge the South Tower had also been hit, Canavan and four co-workers began to make their way out. The group walked through the lobby to an underground concourse connecting the north and south towers when they heard a roaring rumble and the building came down around them.
Once Canavan realized he wasn’t dead, his first thought was to get out. “I thought the ceiling had fallen in. I was going to climb out of the ceiling and walk out. I just started digging,” Canavan said.
He dug for 20 minutes, pulling himself out of the rubble and began walking to Church Street and Vesey Street before getting caught in the debris cloud from the collapse of the North Tower.
He escaped the debris cloud, making it to city hall where a police officer helped the bloodied and dirtied Canavan and put him into an ambulance. “I just got lucky,” Canavan said. He was one of 20 people who were buried by the collapse and survived.
“It wasn’t my time,” Canavan said.
Retired Fire Capt. Robert “Bob” Nussberger, went to the World Trade Center on Sept.11, 2001, to help rescue people like Canavan, but was injured during the collapse of the South Tower.
Eleven years removed from his experience, Nussberger said he still has flashbacks and anxiety attacks, especially the two weeks surrounding Sept. 11. But he finds solace in talking with fellow survivors like those in the survivor’s network.
“It’s still a rough time, but this is what calms things down—coming here,” Nussberger said.
The retired captain was joined by Sam Kedem, a trauma therapist who counseled 9/11 survivors, including Nussberger, for eight years.
“If you don’t talk about it, it will drive you crazy,” Nussberger said.Kedem said during his time counseling survivors and family members of those lost, he noticed how helpful those from similar backgrounds were to one another. “When [firefighters] come to me, they were [reluctant], but when they see him (Nussberger), they know he is one of them, a brother. They listen,” Kedem said.
Canavan and Nussberger, who had never met prior to Sept. 11, 2001, will forever share a bond as survivors. Both are now docents at the 9/11 Tribute Center and Memorial, giving tours and sharing their experiences.
Each Sept. 11, the names of those who died will continue to be read at the 9/11 Memorial.
“Even though you are looking at concrete and metal and glass, what it is about is flesh and blood. It is about the people. That is tribute,” Canavan said. “You don’t put it behind you and never remember, because of the motto being ‘never forget,’ but life goes on, and I am living proof of it.”
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