Sep 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (KNSI) - While virtually everyone has a story of where they were and what they were doing on the quiet, unassuming morning of September 11, 2001, the day holds particularly poignant meaning for those millions of Americans most directly impacted by the terror attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives on U.S. soil -- the people of Washington D.C. and New York City.
Today, Minnetonka native Lynn Arlt lives in St. Cloud, where she serves as a therapist and social worker for the St. Cloud Veterans Health Care System. But 10 years ago, Arlt lived a very different life, working as a stylist in New York City's bustling fashion industry.
After graduating college in the mid-1980s, Arlt said a friend invited her to come to New York City and spend the summer working with her as a crew member on fashion shoots. The summer fling began Arlt's 20-plus year affair with the Big Apple.
"New York is extremely diverse," Arlt said. "It was great. I have friends from all over the world noq -- Italians, Irish, Puerto Ricans. I loved that."
A tip from a photographer friend eventually helped Arlt find the place she'd call home during most of her New York years -- a 7th floor one-bedroom apartment in the trendy planned community on the southwestern tip of lower Manhattan known as Battery Park City.
The 92-acre stretch of upscale apartments and condominiums nestled along the Hudson River was erected in the early 80s, built on over 1 million cubic yards of soil and rockeds excavated during another major construction project: the early 70s build of Battery Park City's neighbor to the south -- the World Trade Center.
As she headed across the Hudson River for a photo shoot on the morning of September 11th, Arlt said she, like every other New Yorker, had no idea her home was about to change forever that gorgeous Tuesday morning.
"It was a beautiful day. The ironic thing is the day before, we had a thunderstorm and we a beautiful rainbow. It was just amazing," Arlt said.
Arlt said she and her co-workers had just started work along the other side of the river in New Jersey when they were jolted by an incredible blast at 8:46 a.m. -- the moment American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the World Trade Center's North Tower.
"We were out taking pictures of a model and all of a sudden, we heard this loud noise," Arlt said. "It was just so loud. You just couldn't even comprehend."
"My assistant came running out and said a plane just went into the World Trade Center building," Arlt said. "We were all looking across the river and looking at her and we're, like, she's just crazy. But we could see, obviously, there was something going on."
When United Flight 175 barreled into the South Tower 17 minutes later, Arlt said the scope of the event began to settle in for herself and her stunned co-workers -- but not entirely.
"The hairdresser I was working with said, Wouldn't it be something if they fell? And I said, there's no way that's going to happen. They can't possibly fall. You couldn't really comprehend what was going on so the thought of them falling was just not in the realm of possibility," Arlt said.
At 9:59 a.m., the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 after burning for nearly an hour. Twenty-nine minutes later, the north tower followed.
"I wondered what was happening to my friends. Normally, I would have been taking the subway at that time if I'd gone into a studio in the city instead of being on location. So you're kind of think about that I'm lucky that I'm not there."
The day's work cancelled and unable to return to her neighborhood in now cut-off lower Manhattan, Arlt said she and the rest of her group got a hotel room in New Jersey that night. Despite the area's crippled cell phone network, she was eventually able to reach a friend in New Jersey for a ride and a place to stay temporarily.
With parts of Battery Park City officially designated as a crime scene, Arlt said her first opportunity to get back to her apartment was six days after the attacks.
"We could go to a pier that was close to the World Trade Center and wait for our apartment building number to be called. They put us on trucks to get into the apartment buildings and then, they gave you 15 minutes to get whatever you could out of your apartment. It was pretty startling," Arlt said.
"When I got back into my apartment, my windows had been open, so I had ash all over everything. I went over to my window to see if I could see if the Towers were still there. Of course, I knew that they weren't, but I just...I saw them everyday. All I saw was the smoke. It was kind of not real because I'd looked at (the Towers) for so many years and it was just, like, oh God, they really are gone."
It took two months before authorities eventually reopened Arlt's building and allowed her home permanently. But she said not all of her former neighbors returned to their old homes.
"You were always really happy if you saw a neighbor coming back. A lot of people left," Arlt said. "Over half of the people down in Battery Park City moved out."
Toxic smoke from the World Trade Center fires lingered in the air of Battery Park City for the next five months. As President Bush and New York mayor Rudi Guiliani vowed to rebuild the destroyed buildings, Arlt said she soon realized it would be a long time before her old neighborhood would approach any type of normalcy.
"They had 24 hour teams working, so my bedroom, every night, had lights -- just big floodlights coming in...and the noise..." Arlt said.
Arlt said once she and her neighbors came to terms with the new harsh environment of their post 9-11 surroundings, Battery Park City fell prey to another harsh reality -- political in-fighting and indecision.
"I look back now and realize how naive I was because when they got the site cleaned in six months, I was like, hey, a year, year and a half from now, something will be back up. It'll be great," Arlt said. "But it just went on, the fighting about what to put there and who's in charge and the insurance issues. It was pretty frustrating. It got very frustrating."
Arlt soldiered on in Battery Park City for five years after the attack. Finally, the completion of her Master's degree and a job offer in St. Cloud led her to start a new chapter in her life back in her home state in 2006.
But while Arlt said New York is never far from her heart, the traces of September 11th are never far away either.
"Even now, there's a certain smell sometimes in this town that reminds me of what it smelled like after the Towers went down. It burned for so long. There was just this smell in the air for a really long time. So every once in a while, I still smell something here that reminds me of that," Arlt said. "Of course, I tell myself I'm not there, but sometimes, it does remind me of that."
And the memories? They remain as well, she said.
"I think about how many lives were affected by it...myself, my friends, the families that lost people. Still, there's just a certain sense of disbelief that it happened," Arlt said.
Still close with many friends remaining in Battery Park, Arlt flew to New York Thursday to be in the city this weekend -- time to visit her old home and be there for the 10th anniversary remembrances of the attacks.
"To live down there for several years after that, there was still a certain amount of stress involved with that. So all the people, that stayed, I think they showed a certain amount of faith and courage that it was going to get better," Arlt said.