Local volunteers remember 9/11



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Maria Carrasquillo sits on the bumper of an emergency response vehicle that was used to assist responders at Ground Zero in New York in the days following Sept. 11. Ike Hajinazarian

It took Red Cross volunteer Susan Berwick 10 years to be able to talk about what she saw at Ground Zero.

Berwick was one of 17 volunteers from Bloomington to be sent to either Ground Zero, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pa. As a whole, the group logged 421 service days in the months following the attacks, according to documents provided by the Red Cross.

Berwick, who had experience in critical incident stress debriefing, was sent on a two-week tour in December 2001, months after the attacks.

While there, she worked as a volunteer in respite tents near the site, where workers cleaning the site were able to rest, decompress and talk about what they were seeing.

“Some days they talked, and some days they weren’t talkative,” she said. “We just were there when they wanted to talk and gave support and counseling.”

When Berwick arrived around Dec. 10, workers were sifting through what remained of the still-burning World Trade Center, she said.

Volunteers and workers at the site would refer to Ground Zero as “the sacred ground,” she said.

“There were flowers,” ?Berwick said. “There were memorials on these walls that just lined the whole perimeter of the site.”

Since she was required to wear her Red Cross credentials to gain access to the site, Berwick said New Yorkers would approach her and thank her for her efforts.

“People would buy your lunch,” she said. “New York was very appreciative of what everyone was there ?doing.”

Maria Carrasquillo, the current disaster program manager for the Monroe County chapter of the American Red Cross, volunteered at Ground Zero prior to becoming an employee.

Carrasquillo was sent to Ground Zero on Sept. 15, 2001. She and her tour partner drove for two days in an emergency response vehicle to reach the site, passing the site of the Flight 93 wreck in Pennsylvania along the way.

Her first glimpse of the site in New York City was the columns of smoke rising from the burning remains of the Twin Towers beyond the horizon.

“A few hours away we could start seeing the smoke, and that is what we saw driving in for several hours,” she said.

Years later, she can still remember the indescribable feeling of being surrounded by that smoke and debris from the buildings.

“There was so much stuff in the air, and it was constantly hazy,” she said. “The smell is something that I’ll never forget.”

While she was at Ground Zero, she and her tour partner delivered meals to the respite tents Berwick would later work in.

She said in the two weeks she was in the city, the rescue efforts were coming to an end.

“When we got there, there was still a little bit of hope that they would find survivors,” she said. “By the time we left there, that was gone.”

Carrasquillo said what she carries with her the most from her time spent in the city is a single moment from her last delivery run.

They were on Wall Street, near a statue of George Washington, approximately a block and a half from where the barricades for the site were set up.

“We look at the statue, and there’s an eagle, just sitting on one of the arms of the statue,” she said. “And that to me was just like, wow, you know, we’re still here.”

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