Remembering 9/11 Part 2: Cottage Grove woman returns to New York on 10th anniversary of Sept. 11

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Cottage Grove resident Katie Sevcik has vivid memories of Sept. 11.

As terrorists flew into the Twin Towers in New York, she was three miles from ground zero on her way to a business meeting one block north of Tower I.

The memories, which are always in the back of her mind, have returned ever since she found out she will be flying to New York on Sunday, the 10th anniversary of that awful day.

Because of scheduling, there is no way to avoid flying that day, she said. She has a vague sense of anxiety about returning this time. Even though she flies to New York on a monthly basis, she hasn't been there since June.

She recently has been waking up at night with the same acrid odor in her nose that she remembered after the explosions.

Sept. 11 was on a Tuesday and Sevcik was staying in a mid-town New York hotel on the 44th floor.

Calling home

As head of operations for Wells Fargo Bank Shareowner Services, she was set to attend a business meeting.

She was leaving the hotel when she heard people speculating that a small plane had hit the first of the Twin Towers. She'd planned to take the subway and get off at the stop beneath the towers and walk to an office a block away.

"I called home and left a message on the answering machine that I was OK in case the kids heard that a small plane had hit one of the towers," she said.

Leary that she might get stuck in the subway if there was a problem, she decided to take a cab instead. That's when she heard a plane had also hit the other tower and the buildings were collapsing.

Thinking that the message she'd left at home wouldn't reassure daughters Lauren and Emily when they got home from school, she called Crestview Elementary School to leave a message about what had happened and that she was OK. School officials decided not to tell students during the school day. Sevcik said to tell the girls that their brother, Mike, would pick them up after school and that he would "fill them in."

She also called her husband, Kevin, at work and left a message that she was not hurt.

The Sevcik's oldest daughter, Sarah, was away at collage and there was no way to reach her. Katie decided Sarah would call her father when she heard news about the disaster.

When Katie called Park High School to leave a message for Mike, the secretary wouldn't let her leave one. They were very busy, she was told, and didn't she know what was happening in New York?

"Yes, I'm here," she told them. They sent a message to Mike.

Sevcik remembers being in the hotel lobby that morning and beginning to take in the scope of what had happened. It was then that she knew there were no meetings to go to. She stayed on the ground floor into the afternoon, afraid to go to her hotel room.

People coming in were disheveled and sooty. The women were in stocking feet, having shed their high heels to run from the explosions.

"The lobby was packed with people watching the news reports," she said. "When the towers collapsed, we all just grabbed each other's hands. Complete strangers holding on to each other."

She learned later that one side of her office building was no longer there, only rubble and broken glass was left.

Normally, after a disaster, there would be sounds of police and ambulance sirens, she said. There were none and she knew why. More people had died than were injured.

About 4 p.m., she was told by a hotel worker that there was a public phone in Times Square that was working. Sevcik's cell phone, like everyone else's in the city, had no service.

"It was so eerie," she said, "because there were no cars. Can you imagine, in the middle of the day, not seeing any vehicles in Times Square?"

That night, in her room, she was curled up in a ball in her bed with a blanket. Instead of the normal noises of the city, she heard military jet fighter planes.

Leaving the television set on, she found comfort in hearing Rudy Giuliani, then the city's mayor, from time to time through the night.

"He was amazing. His words were so comforting," she said. "He said America would recover and be even stronger. He also warned people not to go within a mile of the disaster scene because many body parts were still being recovered. He said anyone in that area could be arrested."

'Therapeutic' trip

On Wednesday evening, she went to St. Patrick's Cathedral, even though she isn't Catholic. "My faith is important to me," she said. "I just wanted to be somewhere and hold on to it."

She doesn't recall exactly what she did on Thursday, but racked up $500 in long-distance phone calls during her time in the city.

Her office offered to hire a car for her because airplanes were still grounded.

Sevcik, because she wasn't sleeping well, couldn't imagine driving a car from New York to home. Wells Fargo kept in touch every two hours until they secured her a way to return home.

On Friday night, she boarded an Amtrak train at Penn Station that traveled to Chicago where she changed trains to go to St. Paul.

So many people were trying to leave New York that they even paid for tickets to ride in the dining car, she said.

Inadvertently, the 30-hour trip home was "therapeutic," she said. "Everyone had a story to tell."

Her family, including Sarah who had come home from school, was there when she got off the train.

"Before getting hugs, I just had to touch each of their faces with my hands." she said. "I don't know why."

After the recent earthquake on the East Coast, she was talking to people in her New York office. They told her they had flashbacks to what happened 10 years ago.

Sevcik has a stack of newspaper clippings about Sept. 11. She is glad she has them, but she's not sure she'll ever read them.