Seattle Times photo editor Kevin Fujii on 9-11
Posted by Kevin Fujii @phooj
KEVIN FUJII / HOUSTON CHRONICLE
By Kevin Fujii, Seattle Times photo editor
My phone rang early on Sept. 11, 2001, in Houston.
"Turn on the TV! A plane crashed into the World Trade Center!" my cycling teammate said.
I thought it was a movie. But every news channel showed the same scene of smoke billowing from the north tower.
Then the second plane hit the south tower. I was stunned, frozen in disbelief.
When I finally gathered myself, I bailed on our training ride and hung up. I threw on some clothes, jumped in the car, called the morning photo editor and said I was heading to Bush (airport).
Even though I worked the night shift, it's "all hands on deck" for a big news situation like this.
From downtown Houston, there's two fast ways to get to Bush: I-45 or the Hardy Toll Road. I expected I-45 to be packed with commuters. But it was eerily empty.
The airport appeared normal from the outside. I gathered my gear, locked the hatchback and closed it. Through the closed window, I could see my keys sitting on top of the photo-gear strongbox. I remember uttering some sort of expletive. But I told myself there were no photos to make staring at the locked SUV.
Once inside the airport, it was total chaos. The tops of the luggage carousels stood alone like islands in a sea of humanity. I made my way along the wall to the oversize-luggage conveyor belt. I jumped on the conveyor belt and rode it to the closest luggage carousel. I climbed up on top of it and made the above photo.
There was a lot of confusion, frustration and anger among the stranded travelers. Most didn't understand why a plane crash in another state would ground their flights in Texas. There wasn't a sense of threat or of being attacked.
I ran into a photographer friend from a television-news station. He and his reporter offered me a ride back to the Houston Chronicle. The ride back downtown was quiet. We discovered a plane hit the Pentagon, the twin towers collapsed and another jetliner crashed in a field.
By now, it should have been full-on rush hour. Again, no traffic. Downtown was empty. There were less cars and people than an early Sunday morning.
I turned in my images from the airport and walked out of the building to photograph how deserted downtown Houston was on Sept. 11. We decided to publish an extra edition for the afternoon and needed to localize the national tragedy.
This was difficult to show. The tall buildings looming overhead and the intense silence made me feel vulnerable. I was alone in the fourth largest city in America.
After walking a few blocks and seeing the faithful enter the Annunciation Catholic Church, I realized my angst was not solitary. It was the unifying grief of a nation under attack and the anguish of loosing so many of our fellow countrymen on this day.