Former WIBW-TV reporter recalls seeing towers fall, covering 9/11 in NYC
TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A vacation 20 years ago became a front-row seat to a nation’s nightmare for former WIBW-TV reporter and anchor Cara Connelly.
“(I was asleep and) one of my friends from Topeka called me and said, ‘What’s going on there?’ and I had no idea,” she said. “No where in my mind did I think it would be a passenger jet.”
Cara was visiting her younger brother, who had his first job working for an investment bank in New York City’s financial district, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. When she knew he was safe, she walked outside, and saw the Twin Towers silhouetted in the skyline.
“I was standing in the middle of the street when the first tower fell,” she said. “That was the most terrifying and horrible thing to ever see - a building that size where it started falling, and you just saw this cloud of dust, and maybe a minute later - nothing, nothing’s there. The entire thing is gone.”
Once the newsroom knew Cara was safe, they reached out to CBS, who allowed Cara to join the crews atop their New York headquarters. From that vantage point, she could see the emergency lights surrounding a pile of rubble, shrouded in dust.
“All the reporters there really understood the magnitude of what was happening,” Cara said. However, rather than the stories of incredible rescues they thought would dominate the days ahead, “it became clear that there were thousands of people that were lost.”
The message was underscored when Cara and her brother made their way to a hospital to donate blood. She recalls medical crews and gurneys lined up outside, waiting to take in patients.
“They had dozens of stretchers, and no one coming,” she said. “They had a Red Cross table and we stepped up and said, ‘We’re willing to give blood,’ and he said, ‘Look around - we don’t need it.’ And that was really hard to hear because it just meant there aren’t as many survivors as we had hoped.”
She said the memories that remain most vivid are the signs that immediately started popping up around the city.
“They would a picture like a missing poster, and say things like, ‘Worked in Tower 2.’ Those signs started going up everywhere in New York City, and it was heartbreaking to know those people were lost,” she said.
20 years later, Cara works for a medical company, and has an eight-year-old daughter. They recently went through a box Cara saved from that time. It included New York newspapers from that day, and the mask she wore because of the dust and debris in the air (”Interestingly, now it looks familiar to all of us because of COVID,” she said). Her daughter asked a lot of questions, and Cara explained as best she could.
“The thing I really want her to know is how incredible it was to see a city and then a country really pull together,” Cara said. “I wish we had more of that spirit like we had after 9/11, where we were all in it together, and we were all working toward a common goal to keep ourselves safe.:
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