As Phyllis Ebanks and Sherry Dowling, who lived on different floors of the same apartment building on Quincy Street in Brooklyn, made their way home on the evening of September 16th, they had no idea that their building had just been hit by a tornado.
They each arrived home sometime after 7 pm, only to be greeted by the chaotic sight of blown-out windows, fire trucks lining the street, yellow police tape cordoning off the building and the sounds of despair. Neighbors soon explained to them that they were struck by a freak storm. “The roofs from the buildings next to ours had blown onto the top of our building, caving in the ceiling of the room where I sleep!” Phyllis recalled.
Due to possible structural damage, she and Sherry soon were told that all tenants from their building were barred from entering, that it could take weeks for that situation to change. Neither knew what they were going to do. After learning that the Red Cross might be able to assist, the women separately made their way to the New York Red Cross Chapter headquarters in Manhattan, hoping for real help.
“The Red Cross gave me a sense of relief,” said Phyllis. “Desperate for information, I poured out questions like crazy and not once did the Red Cross people tell me that I’d have to wait for the answers. They helped me with money for food and put me in a hotel right away; they didn’t leave me wondering where I was going to stay.”
“I love the Red Cross,” said Sherry, who received emergency housing, a stipend for food, and referrals to city agencies for further services. “If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t know my next step—what I was going to eat, where I was going to sleep. They really helped a lot.”
Phyllis Ebanks and Sherry Dowling from Brooklyn, NY
When the first plane hit the World Trade Center on 9/11, Bob McGrath was working with a colleague at a small PR firm in downtown Manhattan. From one of their offices they could see the smoke, but not the buildings themselves. The TV in their offices was tuned to CNBC, and all too soon, they understood the gravity of the situation.
Like many New Yorkers, Bob urgently wanted to be able to help in some way. He called one of his firm’s clients, St. Clare’s Hospital and Health Center on West 51st Street in Manhattan. Did they need help with public affairs? They did, and, by 11:30 am, Bob was at St. Clare’s, which was set up as an overflow for triage from the World Trade Center. He spent the next two days carrying out the public information function for the hospital, speaking with the media and with family members searching for loved ones who had been at the Trade Center the morning of 9/11.
Bob, who had been a member of the Red Cross marketing advisory council since 1998, then received a call from American Red Cross in Greater New York’s Chief Information Officer, Mark Edelman. The Chapter’s public affairs staff had been working 24/7 handling media inquires, and Mark needed another person on board. Since there was less for Bob to do at St. Clare’s because of the small number of casualties, he came to the NY Red Cross on Friday.
Bob divided his time at the Red Cross between its headquarters (then located on Amsterdam Avenue and West 66th Street), a Red Cross tent set up on the West Side Highway just north of the World Trade Center, and the City’s Family Assistance Center near the Chelsea Piers. He responded to media inquiries and arranged for interviews with Red Cross personnel and others. At the Family Assistance Center he worked with the general public, explaining where they could get further help.
The following Monday, when Wall Street reopened for business, Bob played an important role in helping the Red Cross staff to navigate police checkpoints in order to set up aid stations in lower Manhattan. That day, Red Cross mental-health staff from across the country greeted and provided support to commuters throughout the Financial District. “They didn’t know the city, they didn’t know all the accents, but they knew how to give people support,” said Bob. “When people came out of the subways they saw Red Cross folks with water and pamphlets, literally ready to hug and to talk.”
Working with the Red Cross after 9/11 spurred Bob to become more involved with the Greater NY Red Cross. Nine years later, he is one of the Chapter’s most active public affairs volunteers. “I felt blessed to be a part of the NY Red Cross on September 11th,” said Bob. “This organization has helped thousands of people get on the road to recovery in the aftermath of unimaginable devastation, loss and pain, and my volunteer work with the Red Cross has made me a stronger, more patient, more empathic New Yorker.”
Niketut Koriastuti (left), Cliff Haryanto (right) and Baby Matthew (bottom)
(Photo: Mary Beth Aberlin)
It began around 5:30 a.m., in the garage of a difficult-to-reach three-story building abutting the Long Island Expressway in the Middle Village neighborhood of Queens.
Niketut Koriastuti thought she’d been dreaming when she heard loud noises next door. Realizing that something was terribly wrong, she woke her husband, Cliff Haryanto, who opened the door of their second-floor apartment onto a hallway filled with billowing smoke. The apartment had no fires escape, fire alarms or extinguishers, and with no other way out, the couple decided to evacuate through a window. Cliff hung down from the window’s edge and yelled for his wife to pass him two-year-old Matthew. Clinging to the ledge by one arm, Cliff cradled Matthew in the other until he was able to safely drop him down to a neighbor waiting below. Then Cliff jumped, injuring both arms.
Niketut reports feeling panicked, “I forgot my glasses. There was no time. I couldn’t see anything—it was dark and there was so much smoke.” Cliff told her to jump to him so he could break her fall. But in the dark she missed him and sprained her ankle.
The family was taken for treatment to North Shore Hospital. It was there that two Red Cross responders came to offer them assistance. The responders took the family back to the fire scene to retrieve documents and then to a hotel where Red Cross had arranged temporary housing for them. Cliff and Niketut had never dealt with the Red Cross and were surprised to see them at the hospital.“We got very, very much help from the Red Cross,” says Niketut.
Kartika and Evan Langston (Photo: Mary Beth Aberlin)
Evan Langston and his wife, Kartika, lived one floor above Cliff and Niketut. Evan woke up because he smelled smoke. “I sat up in bed and I was, like ‘Babe, get up! There’s a fire.’” He opened the apartment door, saw smoke and slammed the door shut. “It all happened so fast,” says Evan. “I ran around the apartment and tripped and cut my foot. When I came back my wife was trying to jump out the window. Her feet were out the window and she was sitting there ready to jump. I yelled, ‘Tika, what are you doing? You can’t jump.’ We live on the third floor; she could get really hurt.
“So I grabbed her around her stomach and I pulled her back in.” Evan ripped a blanket off the bed and threw it in the shower to wet it. He put the wet blanket over their heads and they slowly descended the pitch-black, smoke-filled stairway to the building’s entrance. Seconds later, the stairwell burst into flames.
Evan’s stepfather had told the couple that the Red Cross could help them, and a social worker at the hospital to which they were taken called the Chapter for assistance. After finding them in the hospital, Red Cross workers took the couple back to the destroyed building to pick up essential documents, arranged for temporary housing for them, and gave them an emergency stipend to buy food and clothing. They also arranged for medication and a replacement machine to treat Evan’s asthma—his had melted in the fire.
This was not the first time Evan’s family had been involved with the Red Cross. His brother, Jonathan, an artist in Portland, Oregon, and a friend used first aid skills learned at the Red Cross to help a man who was seriously injured while mountain biking in the woods in Oregon. They were honored for helping to save the man’s life at a Red Cross “Breakfast of Champions” held in March 2009.
For their parts, Evan and Kartika are grateful for the assistance they received. Evan says, “Thank you, Red Cross, for all your help. You really saved us.” To which Kartika adds, “Without the Red Cross we would have had no place to go.”