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The Survivors’ Circle


Sonia Corredor, 30, left
South Tower, 91st floor
The civil engineer was at her desk when she heard the crash of the North Tower exploding. She headed for the stairwell, where people chatted and ate breakfast as they walked down. She was on the fifteenth floor when the plane hit the South Tower but made it out the Church Street exit. She caught the Staten Island ferry just as the South Tower buckled, and found her husband and 4-month-old daughter waiting on the other side.

Tom Canavan, 47, right
North Tower, 47th floor
The securities specialist was wrapping up a conference call when the building was hit. Following protocol, his colleagues locked up important documents before heading for the stairs, which were packed by then. Canavan, who’d found a second stairway, had barely made it into the underground concourse between the towers when the South Tower caved in, burying him in debris and cutting his head. He dug himself out, went for stitches at Beth Israel Hospital, then headed to Grand Central at 3 p.m. to catch a train home to Fishkill.

Zedeño (and others): No.

Canavan: I ask that all the time, and no one is bitter about it. It’s like a wasted emotion for people who survived this. Why am I going to waste my time being bitter? I got over that. I had that intense anger … then right after that I was apathetic about life in general. Work was just feeding the machine.

Chea: I went through that. I went through the motions at work. But you realize that you can’t just go through the motions forever. Because you feel like you’re wasting that miracle that you survived.

Zedeño: The shift happens—and before you actually recognize it.

Canavan: Yeah, everyone notices everything before you do.

Zedeño: People close to you.

Buzzelli: My wife was like, “Oh, you seem so much better,” and I thought, What are you talking about?

Johnson: But you never know what’s gonna trigger you. A couple of weeks ago when the Holland Tunnel had the threat of the bomb, I saw the police and I started crying, I just broke down, and … I had to have a police officer take over and drive me through the tunnel. And it was at that point that I’m like, “You know what, this is not going to go away.”

Sonia Corredor: I always think, “How often are the exits?” and “Which one is going to be closest to me?” I am always more alert, but I don’t feel good—I feel panic. And that doesn’t make me feel good.

Zedeño: If you’re feeling horrible, you’re doing good. Because right when you start recognizing all those horrible things, the shift is happening; it just takes time for you to recognize it. You gotta catch up to it.

Chea: Talking about doing the things you wanted to do, for a while I wanted to do something different from information technology. But I hesitated, because the job was good, the pay was good, and it provided for my family well. Then, boom: I got laid off. I got a nice severance package, and it let me go back to school for a master’s in emergency and disaster management. It’s been great, more time with my kids than I ever had in my life before, more time for my wife, and a focus on working to help others.

Canavan: My father would say—excuse my French—“Sometimes you need a kick in the ass.”

Chea: There is another part of it, too. All of our senses are a little bit more attuned to our environment now. I know in the past, you might’ve heard a rumble of the subway like we heard a few minutes ago, you might not react to that.

Fishman: I didn’t hear anything.

Chea: I heard the subway about five minutes ago.

Canavan: And the fire truck went by.

Fishman: Really?

Chea: You notice things more. Your senses are far more in tune now to anything that can result in an emergency situation.

Canavan: Can anyone see an airplane flying over and not look up?

Zedeño: I think that one of the reasons people are touched by the stories is that in one way or another, everyone is a survivor. Before I was a survivor of terrorist attacks, I was a survivor from Cuba … Somehow you’re always surviving something.

Chea: People love to be connected.

Fishman: Is it as easy to be connected now as it was before 9/11?

Chea: My wife said … up until 9/11 we were on the same page. After 9/11, she says there’s a hole there that can never be filled between us. The 9/11 hole.

Fishman: Earlyne, you got divorced after 9/11. What happened?


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