On 9/11, My Mother Thought the World Was Ending

A Near-Miss Sparks a Daughter’s Reverence for Victims and Survivors

It seems as if it was yesterday that I peered out the window of my sixth-grade English class and saw a big stagnant cloud of black smoke coming from the distance. The smoke was pouring out the World Trade Center—the twin giants that architecturally and symbolically made the New York City skyline even more famous when they towered over the buildings in downtown Manhattan 10 years ago.

My classmates at Saint Thomas Aquinas in the Park Slope section of  Brooklyn, N.Y., did not know what to think. Students whipped out cell phones, and tears flowed when they received information on the other end of the phone. One of my classmates said his brother worked in the towers, but took off work that day. However, another girl’s uncle was in the towers.

My mother, Frances Augustin, worked in Jersey City.  As a result, she had to connect to the PATH train at the World Trade Center station in order to go into New Jersey. Forgetting to turn off the iron, my mother rushed back to our home in Brooklyn, not knowing that those minutes saved her life. On her trek to the WTC station, my mother noticed that people were evacuating the train station. When she asked, someone told her that one of the towers had been hit.

“I felt like the world was ending,” she said.

Like thousands of other New Yorkers, my mother was confused and bewildered. Then the next tower was hit.

“There was a long line to make a phone call to let the family know I was fine,” she said. “I stood there watching the building burn and people jumping out the windows. As soon as I turned around to leave the line, people were screaming, saying ‘It’s coming! It’s coming!'”

My mother and others began to run as debris, mixed with the ashes of those who had passed away, came rolling her way. “When I looked behind, I saw a whole lot of clouds rolling towards Battery Park.”

People were jumping onto a dock by the Hudson River to flee the rapidly moving cloud of debris, but my mother could not escape it. She stopped in her tracks as the cloud consumed her. When it passed, my mother looked down and saw her feet turned white. Seeing my mother covered from head to toe, a man told her to wash the debris off her body as soon as possible to avoid contracting cancer.

Since no public transportation systems were running, my mother had to walk the Brooklyn Bridge to get back home. She then took a dollar van, which was charging more than a dollar that day, and eventually reached home.

To this day, 9/11 remains very vivid in my mind because of my mother’s story. Millions of other stories did not end like hers. That’s why it’s important to me to show reverence on 9/11 for those who have lost loved ones.

Camille Augustin is a senior majoring in journalism at Howard University.