Sunday, September 4, 2011

9- Ferries to the Rescue

Paul Amico did not know a plane had struck the World Trade Center that Sept. 11. He just saw the smoke and knew it meant trouble. As a construction supervisor working as an independent contractor for New York Waterways, he was on the Jersey side of the Hudson River and far up street at the Weehawken Ferry Terminal when he saw the smoke.
The bright sun shone down on the surface of the river, a smooth surface ripped here and there by the wakes of ferries making their way to and from Manhattan. But it was an odd sight, partly because many of the ferries slashing their way across the water towards New Jersey seemed heavily laden with passengers, exactly opposite of what he might have expected from the morning commute.
Like many who gazed across at the disaster scene from the Jersey side for the first time, Amico sensed the great wrong in what he saw.
“When I saw the first tower on fire, I knew people would need a way to get out of Manhattan,” he recalled.
Amico did not consult with his boss or ask for permission, he just grabbed a two-way radio and leaped aboard the next Manhattan bound Ferry, “So I could get to the other side,” he said.
As owner of Amico Iron Works in Secaucus, Amico was responsible for the construction of most of the Ferry Piers that service New York Waterways. His company has built most of the docks on both sides of the Hudson River from which people embarked. He knew if anyone could help during the crisis, he could. While he could not rescue people from the burning towers, he had the skill and the resources to rescue those people already on the ground.
“I knew people were going to have a hard time getting out,” he said.
While many people fled uptown and would eventually find passage from terminals near 40th Street, thousands sought terminals nearest the financial district, only to find some already inaccessible due to debris and the flood of emergency vehicles that had set up along the riverside to battle what was then believed merely a fire.
Amico looked for alternatives.
Using his radio to communicate with ferry operators, he directed them to use the sea wall at Battery Park City. This did not prove safe for along since the falling towers rocked the island tearing open utility lines causing leaks of gas.
Amico looked uptown to Tribeca and a marina he frequently used as a member of the canoe club. Amico often rowed along the Hudson and Hackensack rivers for recreation and possessed a key to the boat house.
“I knew the water was deep enough there for the ferries to get in,” Amico said. “But there was a fence in the way.”
Within minutes, he dug out a torch and cut an opening in the fence that allowed people to get through to the waiting ferries. Police and other officials helped usher the harried commuters to the rocking boats. For the next several hours, ferries transported people to the safety of the Jersey side.
Amico said that during those hours he forgot about his job as a metal worker, about pay, about what he might otherwise be doing. He just thought about moving people.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything but what I had to do next,” Amico recalled. “I don’t think any of those (people) helping over there thought about the whole situation.”
When under the shadow of the tower clouds, he tried not to look around too much or think too much of the consequences though reports came to him at intervals, panicked voices claiming other plants had struck other places, including the Pentagon in Washington, DC.
There was too much to think about then and there, keeping everything moving, making certain that he and his staff saved as many lives as possible.
“I was a man with a mission,” Amico said four days after the attack. “But when it first happened and for many hours after the towers came down, I was as confused and stunned as anybody else.”

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