Memories of 9/11

Photo by Joshua Wagner

Ten years later, three women revisit that fateful day

By David Gisch

Students, faculty and community members gathered in the Oak Room at the Washington Street Campus yesterday to hear three women share their memories from Sept. 11, 2001.

The event, “Memories of 9/11,” launched Amarillo College’s 2011-2012 institutional theme, “Reconstructing 9/11.”

Community members Lina Alassali, Dr. Mary Ann Piskun and Carolyn Garner recalled where they were on that fateful day. Their stories are below.

Alassali, a Syrian United Nations employee, was immigrating to America with her husband when their plane was turned around because of the attacks.

Uncertain of what was going on, they saw footage on a television in the Amsterdam Airport.

“I saw two buildings falling to the ground,” Alassali said. “At first I thought it was a movie.”

Because she and her husband did not have their visas, they were forced to stay in the airport. Three days later, the couple was moved to an emergency refugee camp.

After two days, they were informed they were still not cleared to travel and were sent to another camp.

“It was a cold September in Amsterdam, we were dressed in Damascus summer clothes,” Alassali said.

After waiting almost an entire week, they were finally able to fly to America.

Alassali said she understood the heightened security when they arrived in Dallas.

When security asked her why they were headed to Amarillo, she replied that Catholic Family Services had relocated them.

“After 10 years in Amarillo, we are happy to be here,” she said.

Dr. Mary Ann Piskun

Dr. Mary Ann Piskun was in New York City on a business trip when she became part of the 9/11 aftermath medical crew.

“I was attending a review course with 150 surgeons in the meeting room alongside me,” Piskun said

After hearing about the tragedy, Piskun, a veteran and plastic surgeon, decided she wanted to do her part to help. She and some other doctors attending the same conference headed toward Ground Zero.

“We arrived at the scene and were given masks,” Piskun said. “You couldn’t tell what color people were wearing there was so much dust.

“I am a plastic surgeon, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to help.”

She felt a sigh of relief after hearing another surgeon ask for a blood pressure cuff, she said.

She and the other doctors turned a deserted television studio into a makeshift operation room. They prepared to help victims and emergency workers with what little equipment they had.

“Everyone was ready for patients but we never got any,” Piskun said.

One exhausted firefighter stopped by and she gave him a blanket.

There were so few survivors that local hospitals were able to handle everything on their own, Piskun said.

The group had no way of receiving news of what was happening while they were waiting, she said. Any information they received was based on rumors.

Carolyn Garner

Carolyn Garner was at a hotel in New York City, only about 17 blocks from the World Trade Centers on Sept. 11, 2001. She was on the phone with her husband who was at home in Amarillo when he told her to turn on the TV.

“As I turned it on, the second plane hit and the phone lines went dead,” she said.

After watching the news alone in awe for a while, Garner wandered down the stairs of her hotel to the lobby.

“Folding chairs were setup to view a TV in the hotel lobby,” she said said.

The hotel lobby shared a wall with a fire department and Garner watched as fireman lined up to be sent out.

She said she decided to venture out into the streets.

“It was so un-New York,” she said. “The silence created an eerie feeling.”

Garner said the only businesses open were bars and they were full of people watching the news.

“God asks us to persevere and keep going,” Garner said. “Sometimes its hard.

“I saw pictures of missing people on flagpoles asking for prayer, so I did.”


Originally published: Friday, September 9, 2011

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