NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Evelyn Vargas, who was working in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, had a front-row seat to one of the nation’s most horrific events. She was so close to the World Trade Center attacks that she “could feel the heat.”
“We heard the rumble and we looked up, and we saw the airplane go in,” she told CBS 2’s Cindy Hsu on Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the terror attacks. “And then we saw things falling, which actually turned out to be people falling. Almost like having a bad seat in a movie theater.”
Vargas was among those seen running from the twin towers that dark day. It took her nearly five hours to get home to Brooklyn — and it was five years before she could bring herself to return to ground zero.
For the last few years, however, Vargas has honored those who died by visiting lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, but always after 10 a.m. — never during the times when the planes hit the towers. Every year, specific events are marked at the same moments they occurred on that fateful day. For example, at 8:46 a.m., when the first plane hit the North Tower, the “Bell of Hope” is rung at St. Paul’s Chapel.
Vargas took another step in the healing process Wednesday, attending a 12th anniversary ceremony at St. Paul’s, across the street from the World Trade Center.
“This is the first year that I came back at the same time that I was here that day,” Vargas said.
She wore pins in honor of her friends who died on 9/11, many of them firefighters, and today thinks of her sister, an NYPD officer for 20 years who helped in the recovery.
Vargas said she knows she’s one of the lucky ones who made it home to her children, and she now has three grandchildren who must learn about what happened.
“They don’t understand what’s going on, but in time they will with history, that they have to continue the legacy of all New Yorkers,” she said. “We’re strong. We refuse to be victims.”
Vargas said her oldest grandchild, 8-year-old Harleyquin, is ready to learn, but she didn’t want to bring the girl to ground zero on Wednesday because “I didn’t think I was ready to sit and talk to her about it just yet.”
She said she hopes next year she’ll be strong enough to mark the anniversary with her grandkids.
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