The hat of former New York firefighter-turned-Durango-resident Dell Truax is seen here in this 2010 file photo. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, many Durangoans’ memories are as fresh as they were on that fateful day./Photo by Steve Eginoire

Memories of 9/11

Durangoans reflect on Sept. 11 a decade later
by Malia Durbano

It was a slow morning in the newsroom at CNN Headquarters in Atlanta. Cindy Coleman, a graphic artist on staff was working on a story about Michael Jordan returning to basketball. As she was wondering why this was the biggest story of the morning, everything changed. All eyes were glued on the numerous TV screens in the newsroom as two planes crashed into the World Trade Center.

“What just happened?” everyone seemed to be saying at the same time, and the newsroom erupted into chaos. The big question for CNN was how was the network going to cover the event.

“Nobody knew what was going to happen next,” Coleman explained. She scrambled for photos and video footage of the buildings as well as other skyscrapers that might become targets – the Sears Tower, Empire State Building, Pentagon. Where might they hit next?

The phones began ringing off the hook; more employees showed up and joined the frantic search for information and details to project on the screen. All other news went to the back burner. Coleman explained, “I knew what was happening was a very historic and important event. It was all so surreal. People were crying and didn’t know what to do next. I kept thinking, ‘What the hell is happening?’ Nothing like this had ever happened before.”

Employees began asking their supervisors about the emergency exits in their 13-story building. As part of a big complex that includes the Omni Hotel, Georgia Dome, GA World Congress Convention Center and Phillips Arena – there were lots of people in one concentrated area.
In coming days and weeks, Coleman couldn’t get away from the Sept. 11 tragedy. She would go home and turn on the news so she didn’t miss anything.  It was so emotionally draining that she lost 10 pounds the first month. Although she’s now lived in Durango for six years, the memories of that day will never disappear.

Everyone around the world remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Other Durango residents have similarly distinct recollections.

Karen Lovelien had just moved into her new home in Mancos. Just before the first tower fell, she turned on the morning news. Vivid images of chaos and people running made her heart, “go to my gut.”

She immediately called her former husband who was living in Los Angeles. He had helped build the Towers when the couple lived in New York, and his office was in the first tower, while construction continued on the second. As a draftsman for a concrete and steel company, he walked those halls every day.
She woke him up, and they were on the phone together when the first building collapsed. His first reaction was horror. He knew people who still worked in that building.  He drank coffee in those shops and ate in the restaurants during the five years he worked there.

He had taken Lovelien to the top of Tower Two while it was still under construction. Looking down, the cars looked like ants, and she got dizzy and would have fallen had her husband not pulled her back. They watched the TV in disbelief together for a while, then hung up.

Lovelien immediately began praying, but said reflecting on the 10th anniversary, she is sad there was not more healing. “The event fostered a coming together of all belief systems and all nationalities,” she said. “It didn’t continue to the degree it could have. This was a great opportunity but the consciousness shifted from a love that could have unified to fear that caused separation.”

Other Durango residents saw the event from an international perspective. Nicolas Lenis Ravagli lived in Durango for eight years, but he witnessed the Sept. 11 tragedy in the town of San Luis in Tolema, Columbia.

On that fateful day, he had gone into town to shop for things for his farm. The TV was on in the little convenience store, and a group of people had been glued to the screen for hours watching the news. “Some people were angry and some were sad,” he said. “Most could not understand how one culture could do this to another. People couldn’t believe it was real.”

Ravagli was particularly impacted since he had visited New York and the Towers in 1989 when he lived in Boston and knew how many people worked in those towers.

Long-time Durango residents Jane and Arno Burnier were in France visiting his mother and scheduled to fly home on the ill-fated day out of Frankfurt, Germany. “By some miracle, we got upgraded to first class,” Jane Burnier explained. “I was enjoying my champagne and the movie as we took off. We got 50 feet off the ground and turned around and came back down.” The pilot announced that there had been a breach of American security and all planes worldwide were being grounded.

 “I got an intuitive hit that this had something to do with Osama Bin Laden,” Burnier added. “Everyone on the plane got on their cell phones to find out what was going on. The rumors and questions started flying.”

After an hour they were allowed to leave the aircraft. Since all the planes were grounded, every hotel room was full. The airline bussed them three hours away to a small town and put them up in a hotel for the first night – after that they were on their own. As they were going to their room, the elevator door opens. “Standing there is an Arab in full traditional garb, full beard, long white robe with a red and white scarf,” she said. “Everybody just stared at him with fear and disbelief.”

Since her husband speaks French and German, they were able to watch the international coverage of the event while stuck in their little hotel room for six days of pouring rain. “It was amazing how different the world perspective was,” she said.

When they finally got to leave, the Frankfurt airport was in a frenzy, and it took hours for the Burniers to clear security. Never losing her sense of humor, Burnier noted that a family of gypsies from Hungary was in front of them in line. Most of their luggage was plastic bags, except for one large suitcase, which they placed on the table for inspection. “Obviously, oblivious to the world situation, they open this suitcase full of an entire collection of antique knives!”

And with that, she knew she was going to be in line for a very long time.