Natchezian recalls aftermath of 9/11

Published 12:26 am Friday, September 9, 2011

NATCHEZ — Ann Thornhill was not only sent to Ground Zero to assist with the respiratory issues of residents and employees there, but to also help them breathe easier with encouragement and comfort.

When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Thornhill, a nurse and chief of disaster health services for the American Red Cross, was sent to New York City to assist in December 2001.

On the scene at scores of disasters and tragedies across the U.S., Thornhill didn’t have to be told twice to help her neighbors to the northeast.

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Thornhill said the Manhattan residents she encountered were still scared and shaken, and some were having breathing problems.

The violent, fiery collapse of the Twin Towers kicked up tons of hazardous particulate that residents and emergency personnel inhaled that day, and in weeks following the tragedy.

Thornhill said she helped assist apartment residents in improving their respiration with humidifiers, and replenished respiratory prescriptions for those who needed it.

By the time Thornhill had arrived in New York City, she said most of the debris was cleaned up, but there were eerie reminders of the attack everywhere.

“A lot of the twisted metal had been cleared out, but they were still working with quite a bit of it,” Thornhill said. “There was also a lot of crumbling concrete. We had to wear hard hats within block of area because of all the construction. Lots of the stores around it were vacant too. People have not been back in them.”

Thornhill said she knew the Red Cross wouldn’t put its workers in the way of danger, so she wasn’t scared. But she couldn’t say the same for the New Yorkers she assisted.

“There was still a lot of anxiety and confusion,” Thornhill said. “They didn’t know what might happen.”

One apartment building to which Thornhill was assigned was home to senior citizens.

“They particularly were very much afraid,” Thornhill said. “I spent a lot of time assuring them and all.”

Thornhill said looking back a decade, she hopes the anxiety New Yorkers experienced has eased, and that they have been able to live their lives free of fear.

“I hope they feel more comfortable going out on the streets to do their grocery shopping or whatever,” Thornhill said. “I hope they aren’t afraid anymore.”

Thornhill is currently en route to Jackson to assist in the flooding aftermath of Tropical Storm Lee, that soaked the state early this week.