Omar E. Rivera 43, employee of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, will never forget the violent and terrifying sound of the Sept. 11, 2001 disaster. He and his yellow Labrador retriever, Salty, escaped unharmed with many of his co-workers from the 71st floor office. He was sitting on his desk when the first of the hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center.
Mr. Rivera, who is blind, (he lost his sight at the age of 14 to glaucoma) still hears the explosive boom of the hijacked plane smashing into the tower 1 of the World Trade Center. He still hears the crying, the screaming, desperate prayers of men and women inching down the stair through chunks of debris and pools of water and the crackling of the walls and floors bucking and then falling apart.
Mr. Rivera said during an interview at Grand Central Terminal before attending a memorial service at Madison Square Garden for Port Authority workers, “It is difficult to describe sounds with words.” He told us that, “He heard the rustling of scattered papers, the crunching of broken glass and thud of his computer sliding off his desk. He also heard the panicked screams of his co-workers. He quickly said his prayers and then called Salty to guide him through the commotion. Mr. Rivera said that Salty was very nervous, but he didn’t run away.”
With one hand on Salty’s harness and other on a friends arm, Mr. Rivera descended into unknown world filled with smoke and sickening smell of jet fuel. Mr. Rivera said, Salty refused to leave his (Mr. Rivera) side even when another co-worker tried to take the dog’s leash. After and hour and fifteen Minutes Mr. Rivera and Salty came out on the ground floor. They were exhausted but they both kept walking. Then they started running Mr. Rivera could hear the crackling sounds, louder now, echoing through the building. And a short time later, he heard it collapse.
Mr. Rivera said he had not returned to the site of the World Trade Center since then. He tried to resume his work at home, but it is difficult, for many reasons. For many nights he woke up hour after hour. Sleep comes easier now, he said, but sudden noises still make him jump.