Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Monday 11 September 2006

It’s hard to believe, but today it is exactly five years since the terrorist attacks on the USA on September 11, 2001. There were three dogs working in the World Trade Centre on that awful Tuesday morning. One, a PAPD Bomb-Sniffing Dog named Sirius, was taken to Heaven when the second tower collapsed although his partner, Officer David Lim, miraculously survived despite several hours trapped in the rubble. Here are the stories of the other two, both guide dogs for their blind partners. The words are those of their human companions:

Omar Eduardo Rivera and Dorado

Mr. Rivera worked on the 70th floor of the North Tower: "I stood up and I could hear how pieces of glass were flying around and falling. I could feel the smoke filling up my lungs and the heat was just unbearable. Not having any sight I knew I wouldn't be able to run down the stairs and through all the obstacles like other people. I was resigned to dying and decided to free Dorado to give him a chance of escape. It wasn't fair that we should both die in that hell. I thought I was lost forever - the noise and the heat were terrifying - but I had to give Dorado the chance of escape. So I unclipped his lead, ruffled his head, gave him a nudge and ordered Dorado to go. I hoped he would be able to quickly run down the stairs without me and get to safety. I thought he'd be so scared he'd run. Everything was in chaos. Glass was shattering around my head and people were rushing past down the stairs."

At that point, Dorado was swept away by the rush of people fleeing down the stairs, and Mr. Rivera found himself on his own for several minutes amid the pandemonium. But then the unexpected occurred, in the form of a familiar, fuzzy nudge against his knee. Mr. Rivera explains, "He returned to my side a few minutes later and guided me down 70 flights and out into the street, it was amazing. It was then I knew for certain he loved me just as much as I loved him. He was prepared to die in the hope he might save my life."

Inside the egress stairwell, they found some additional assistance from a co-worker. "I took hold of her arm. She went down on my right side and the dog on my left," says Mr. Rivera. The narrow stairwell was extremely crowded, and confusion exacerbated the situation. "People were pushing and shoving past me. Everywhere there was a sense of terror." But order gradually prevailed: "...most people behaved quite prudently and grasped what was happening, so we walked down in an orderly fashion, but it was slow going. It was slow going because there were so many people struggling to get out but Dorado kept nudging me down step by step."

It took more than an hour for Dorado, Mr. Rivera and his co-worker to descend the 70 flights of stairs. Not long after they had reached the ground and safety, the tower collapsed. Says Mr. Rivera, "I owe my life to Dorado - my companion and best friend."

Michael Hingson and Roselle

Mike Hingson was on the 78th floor of the North Tower. Roselle was sleeping peacefully under his desk. “I heard a loud noise like a bump and then a lot of shaking. It was worse than any earthquake I’ve ever experienced,” said Mr. Hingson. “The building started swaying, and the air was filled with smoke, fire, paper and the smell of kerosene.” The plane had struck 18 floors above him. “We knew the emergency exit procedures and people did a very good job of following them.” Roselle led him through the dishevelled office and to the stairwell to begin the long decent, sometimes guiding, sometimes following behind him when things were tight. At about the 68th floor, Mike and Roselle had to step aside so other tenants could lead a badly burned woman down the stairs. The smell of jet fuel was unmistakable, and only then did he begin to understand the gravity of the situation.

“By the time we reached the bottom, it had become very hard to breathe,” said Mr. Hingson. “We were both very hot and tired. Roselle was panting – her throat had been scratched by jet-fuel fumes - and she wanted to drink the water from the tower’s sprinklers that was pooled on the floor.” They were about two blocks away when the South Tower began to collapse. “It sounded like a metal and concrete waterfall,” he said. “We started running for the subway.” Roselle remained focused on her work despite the terror and screams When they emerged from the subway and were making their way from the scene, the North Tower toppled, showering them with ash and debris. Roselle guided her partner to the home of a friend in mid-Manhattan where they stayed until the trains were running again.

“For me,” said Mr. Hingson, “the saddest part was talking to the firemen as they were coming up the stairs—that’s what I’ll always remember most. I knew that some of them got “kisses” from Roselle - probably the last demonstration of love that they would ever receive.”

Good night.
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