ABOARD THE USNS COMFORT- In Carlos Martin’s mind, New York’s skyline is all too familiar.
“I used to visit the World Trade Center,” the 26-year-old petty officer from Long Island said, leaning over the railing of the Navy’s huge hospital ship sent to provide respite for rescuers at the site of the trade center towers’ collapse.
“It was one of my favorite buildings . . . It’s like it isn’t real. It’s like a dream,” he said.
To those who knew New York City’s skyline before last Tuesday’s heinous terrorist attack, the sight of it these days nearly brings them to tears. Whether viewed from the deck of a hospital ship or from a New Jersey scenic overlook, the erasure of a national landmark has left beholders awestruck.
The view of the trade center towers over the last week has been replaced with an acrid cloud of smoke, seen, smelled and tasted from miles away.
The remaining buildings, seen from the Baltimore-based Comfort as it plowed up the Hudson River recently, glowed in the setting sun, shining through thick smoke.
Sailors filled the decks with cameras and cell phones as Comfort drew parallel with lower Manhattan, where the World Trade Center complex extends all the way to the river.
“I feel really sad,” Martin said softly, leaning against the ship’s railing. “It was a crown jewel of New York City.
Commuters waiting in New York’s Port Authority bus terminal Monday, the first day back to work for many, got another view of the shattered skyline. They talked about it, voices somber.
“I was sitting in my office watching bodies fly out of windows,” said a man who quit his job that day. “I’m missing nine friends, and that doesn’t include the 30 that I knew but didn’t know, know.”
“Yeah, I lost four friends,” said another man who watched the destruction from his office on 20th Street.
Across New York Harbor, New Jersey commuter communities like Keansburg, Belford and Highlands have had to adjust to the dramatic changes in a skyline they see every day.
“It’s a sad sight. That’s for sure,” said Doug MacLean, 53, from Fair Haven, N.J., peering through binoculars from the Mount Mitchell overlook last Thursday.
“I know an awful lot of people around here and I don’t know (the fate of) all of them,” MacLean said with a cracking voice and wiping his eyes. “That’s the hard part. I don’t know how long it will be.”
“It’s very scary,” said Melissa Glick of East Brunswick, N.J. “We over here go over there all the time. It’s like going to the supermarket,” she said, staring across the water.
Her husband Jay was working in the city about a mile from the World Trade Center Tuesday.
Jay Glick said he made it home by train through the chaos, but what crystallized the events of the day for him was the moment the train cleared the island and passengers were able to turn back and look at the skyline of lower Manhattan: “There was a collective gasp.”