Ground Zero volunteer recalls working after 9/11

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 7:08 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Sept. 11, 2001 is a day that forever changed America, and it also forever changed the life of Terry Wright.

He was working for the Red Cross in Huntington as a disaster relief volunteer at the time. His group had just completed aviation disaster training at Tri-State Airport when they went inside and saw the news plastered across every television. Wright initially told people to turn the TV off because he thought it was a joke, but the reality of the situation quickly sat in as he talked with other volunteers.

Later that afternoon, Wright received a call from the Red Cross asking him to help in New York City. He immediately accepted the volunteer position and had to rent a car to travel north. Wright would spend the next five months assisting with the search and recovery effort at the World Trade Center.

“You go down there, and the closer you get the less you see,” Wright recalled about his drive into the city. “All you see is street. You look up you see the flames, you see the smell, you see flashing lights. They ask you where you’re going through the checkpoint and you show them your ID and your credentials. He said, ‘go park there,’ and you get out you walk out and see smell you smell burning toxic fumes.”

Wright said he met with New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was assigned to work at Gate 1, which was near the World Financial Banking Building.

“I could look out and see twin one and twin two,” Wright said. “Nothing left. The piles, there was no glass in that building, didn’t have to open the door because the doors wasn’t there. It was mangled. The escalator was broken, there was clothing, blood, dust. You could feel the heat. You look out and you could barely see the sky because of the smoke, debris.”

He would spend his days walking on the piles of debris handing out water and other supplies for rescue workers. Wright would also interact with families of the missing at his main gate. He said the must hurtful part was seeing the body parts of victims being carried out of the rubble and knowing they had no chance of surviving the attack.

“Each day, every time a body was found it will come to my gate,” Wright said. “Bag would open, ordinary zipper you could hear. You have jackhammers, plasma cutters and everything, all of the construction sounds in the back, but you can still hear a zipper.”

He would be asked on a daily basis about people’s loved ones that were lost, but remembers the great respect people had for him and the other volunteers working at the site. Wright said he knew no one survived the collapse as soon as he got there and had to deliver the heartbreaking news to many people, including children.

Wright suffers from three medical conditions from his time working at Ground Zero, but said he would drop everything to do it again. He is currently working with an organization to help honor the other first responders and recuse workers who are dealing with medical conditions, and fighting for access to health care.

Earlier this year, an American flag was flown over the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. to honor Wright’s efforts as he works to unveil a memorial for the 20th anniversary of the attacks -- in memory of other first responders who have lost their lives because of helping after the attacks.

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