Khalid Mirza was at home in Southwest Ranches on Sept. 11, 2001, when his wife told him she saw something on television.
It was the image of the smoke mushrooming out of the Twin Towers.
Mirza, the chairman of the Muslim Communities Association of South Florida, was about to go to work.
“It took several hours to figure out what was happening. It was very shocking,” he said. “No one could believe it was happening in this country.”
Ten years later, South Floridians remember the moments of that Tuesday morning on Sept. 11, 2001. They remember every detail of where they were and what they were doing when two jet planes crashed into the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, turning the towers into crumbling columns of twisted metal, shards of glass and ash.
It was the first of four plane crashes on that blue-sky morning, beginning with the north tower at 8:46 a.m., the south tower at 9:03 a.m., the western facade of the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. and at 10:03 a.m., a field in Shanksville, Pa., forever known for the heroics of the passengers on Flight 93.
‘I have a very strong memory of that day’
“I had just taken my son, Benny, to elementary school,” said Ruth Wiesen, 59, of Kendall. “My daughter, Rachel, was living in New York at the time and she called me in a panic,” said Wiesen, director of Thomas Armour Youth Ballet in South Miami. “They stopped the train and they made everyone get out. There was smoke in the sky. That’s when I turned on the TV and watched in horror as the second plane crashed into the tower.
“I told my daughter, ‘Run, run north’ and then I lost contact with her. After that, we couldn’t get through to one another. No one knew where she was and we didn’t hear from her until six o’clock that night. When she finally called, she said she ran north and finally got to a friend’s house in Washington Heights. It was a feeling of such relief to hear her voice.
“Seeing the horrifying images and not knowing, it was beyond comprehension. Watching that volcanic-like ash rushing down Manhattan and not knowing where she was it was the most horrifying day. I remember I rushed back to Benny’s school and pulled him out. It wasn’t even rational, but I just needed my children around me.”
‘There was a lot of confusion’
Mark Trowbridge was in a dentist’s chair watching The Today Show as the second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The dentist had not yet come in; Trowbridge quickly left.
Ten years ago, Trowbridge worked for the Switchboard of Miami, an emergency call center. Now, he is the president of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce.
“I knew something very bad had happened,” he said. “Switchboard handled all the community crisis calls at the county’s Emergency Operations Center.”
Trowbridge and staff took calls from morning through night.
“There was a lot of confusion. Airports had closed. Chronic callers — people who would call us every day — were in distress,” he said.
Television, he said — with its wall-to-wall coverage of the unfolding tragedy — heightened the anxiety.
“There were other people calling who were having panic attacks. It was pretty heavy stuff,” Trowbridge said. “In a lot of ways, we became a crisis hotline and rumor control. I remember telling people, ‘I think you need to turn the television off and take a break.’ ”
‘We assumed it was fighter jets’
Melissa White was working at a school in Monteverde, Costa Rica, when she heard about the attacks.
“We got to the office. The secretary told us there had been an attack in the United States. We assumed it was fighter jets, though we found out it had been airliners,” said White, who now works as the executive director of the Key Biscayne Community Foundation.
“We got on the CNN web site. It was inundated with web traffic and the images were slow to load. When they did, they were of the Twin Towers burning. Everyone was upset and crying.”
White worried about her cousins in New York and her grandparents in upstate New York.
“You felt vulnerable no matter where your family was,” she said. “The distance between us seemed even greater.”
‘I couldn’t believe I was watching that’
Just three minutes after Ryan Morejon’s American History class began, the second plane lodged into the Twin Towers.
“It was totally befitting that this type of event happened during that [American History] class,” said Morejon, then an eighth-grader at Hammocks Middle School in Kendall.
Morejon, 23, now a Florida International University graduate and a disc jockey for FIU’s radio station, recalled how graphic some of the coverage was on the news.
“I couldn’t believe I was watching that,” he said. “They filmed people jumping off the buildings.”
‘We just watched the TV in shock’
A trained private pilot, Tim Daubert knows planes. When he walked into his Bal Harbour mortgage lender’s office on 9/11, questions flew through his head as he watched the first jet hit the World Trade Center.
“Why was the plane flying so low? Why didn’t it land in the river?” asked Daubert, now a Miami Lakes Town councilman.
But when the second plane struck the second building, the reality of what was happening sunk in. He sat with his co-workers all day, glued to the television set.
“I remember exactly where I was and what I did the whole day: nothing,” Daubert said. “We just watched the TV in shock all day.”
When he finally stepped out of his office, he said he immediately noticed the silence in the skies.
“As a pilot you are aware of the sounds of planes, and it was very strange not hearing a single one. Not hearing planes take off and land at Miami International Airport.”
‘What’s this all about?’
Richard Iacobbacci, a contractor and longtime resident of Surfside, said he had been working on the penthouse suite of the National Hotel in South Beach and was at the Miami Beach Building Department when he got a call from his wife.
“She said a plane just flew into the World Trade Center,” Iacobbacci said. “I grabbed one of my guys and we turned on the TV just as the second plane hit the tower. We were in awe. I was just baffled. Everything came to a standstill that day. I was like, ‘What’s this all about?’ My astonishment turned to anger as the day progressed.”
‘We are under attack’
West Miami City Manager Yolanda Aguilar said she vividly recalls walking into her office on 9/11.
“As I approached the front door, my husband called me with a sense of urgency and he said to me: Where are you? Are you near a television set? If so, turn on the news.”
Aguilar said she remembers watching the chaos on a 19” Sharp TV, the same one that sits in her office today.
“I turned it on and my husband yelled, something crazy is taking place. Call your police chief and make sure that you are secure. We are under attack.”
Aguilar stared at the TV.
“The second plane was about to hit the second tower and I dropped the phone to the floor,” she said. “I thought ‘Dear Lord, Que está pasando (what is happening)? I ran to the front door of City Hall and locked it immediately. I proceeded to gather my staff in my office and called the chief of police. I tried to calm down and proceeded to call the mayor, the members of the City Commission and department directors. The rest is history.”
‘I wasn’t sure if it was a terrorist attack’
Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez said he was at work at his law office when someone told him about the first plane hitting the north tower.
“We all went to turn on the TV and started watching. I didn’t know if the first plane was an accident until minutes later when I saw the second plane hitting the south tower,” Bermudez said. “First I felt concern for the people who were inside the buildings. I wasn’t sure if it was a terrorist attack since at the time it was not confirmed.”
Bermudez said once it was confirmed, he said he “felt anger that terrorists had attacked our country.”
“I felt for the victims and their families impacted by this horrific event. My law partner had two good friends who died in the towers.”
‘I was listening to NPR’
Mari de Armas, 33, an events coordinator who lives in Miami Lakes, said she was listening to NPR on her way to an interview in Miami Beach.
“Listening to what was happening, although shocking, didn’t really affect me as much as watching it later on CNN,” De Armas said. “While driving, my mom called me and tried to explain what was happening. She sounded panicked, but I thought she was just overreacting. And then my interviewer called me and told me not to come out to the Beach.”
De Armas said the city governments were issuing warnings for all tall buildings and government agencies to close for the day.
“I couldn’t understand why or what was happening. It was too big of an event to put in words without a moving image or photo,” she said. “When I returned to my apartment, I woke up my girlfriend to let her know: first that apparently the world was ending, and second, that her grandmother had also called me in a panic.”
‘She thought it was happening over and over’
South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard heard the news while he was driving to work.
“I was coming into work in the morning and that’s when it first hit. And then the second one hit and it was obvious that it was an act of terrorism,” he said. “When I got to work, I started cleaning up my desk because I really couldn’t do anything else and then I went home. I picked up my daughter from daycare. It was time to pick her up. There was no shielding her. It was on the television every time she saw it and in pictures at the store. She saw it left, right and center.
Stoddard said the only buildings his then 3-year-old daughter knew were the ones in downtown and she thought it happened there.
“She thought it was happening over and over.”
“My next door neighbors are Islamic. Kids threw bricks through their window. I was disgusted,” he said. “Someone attacks your country and then everyone turns on each other.”
‘I was sleeping at a friend’s house’
Christian Garcia, 28, a St. Thomas University law student, was 18, almost 19, when the Twin Towers were hit.
“I was sleeping at a friend’s house because our car had broken down early that morning. I was sleeping and my phone woke me up,” Garcia said. “My mom was panicked and asking if I was OK. She told me what happened and I told her that I needed to call her back. It was too much to hear, to handle in a phone call.”
Garcia and his friends turned on the television and within minutes saw the second plane crash.
“We immediately knew. I was shocked. I didn’t understand the repercussions. We turned it off, became silent and went to school. They were diverting traffic away from school, sending us home. Then we knew something was really wrong”
‘People were running away’
Sima Becker, wife of Rabbi Hershel Becker of Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, said her mother and aunt lived in New York City.
“She saw the plane crash and people jumping out of buildings,” Becker said. “She ran over the Brooklyn Bridge to get away from it. People were running away because they were afraid they would cut off the arteries into the area.”
Becker said her aunt was in the building at the time, and when she tried to leave, the bottom floor doors were locked.
“It was a security measure because of falling debris. [My aunt] remembered there was a Borders in the first floor that opened to the outside. She ran by a display of books and knocked it down. The clerk told her she couldn’t leave it like that. She just kept on running. We wonder now if that clerk made it out. She still has nightmares about that day and books.”
Becker said she immediately left to pick up her kids.
“No one said pick up your kids. But we knew something was going on. We wanted our children by our side.”
Miami Herald staff Angel Doval, Nadege Green, Tania Valdemoro-Longest, Latoya Burgess, Michelle Hammontree-Garcia and Perry Stein contributed to this report.