A basket of apples saved this Filipina
ALASIAO, Pangasinan, Philippines—Ten years after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Maureen Roy-Yson an still not bear going back to Ground Zero where memories of the fateful day keep flashing back “like a movie in my mind.”
“When relatives and friends from the Philippines come here and ask to visit Ground Zero, I refuse to accompany them. I ask others to guide them,” she told the Inquirer by phone from New Jersey.
Roy-Yson, who worked at a firm of Filipino lawyers on the 18th floor of one of the World Trade Center towers, was saved from death by a basket of apples that she forgot and for which she returned to her house, in the early morning of September 11 a decade ago.
The day before the attacks, the family went apple picking on an orchard in New Jersey and she decided to bring some fruits for her office mates. She put them in a basket ready for the next day.
But the rush of the morning made her forget the basket. She was already near the bus stop when she realized she had left it at home.
“So I went back to get the basket and missed the bus that I took every morning. I had to wait for the next bus going to the subway station. I missed my train so I was delayed in going to the office,” she said.
Roy-Yson usually arrived before her office mates, getting there at 7:45 a.m. If not for the forgotten basket of apples, she would have been at her office when the World Trade Center buildings were attacked. A co-worker, a Filipino lawyer, who also used to come early, was also late that morning and is alive today.
But 10 years after the tragedy, Roy-Yson has not shaken off the “ashes” off her memory and has refused to go to Ground Zero or nearby.
She recalled that when she emerged from the subway on that day, “everyone was screaming.”
“I was about three blocks away from the World Trade Center when the second attack came. I saw the plane attacking, the bodies flying off the windows. I heard people screaming. It was all dusty around. It was really scary. The people started walking and we walked about 50 blocks, from 9th Street to 67th Street, until a bus fetched us and brought us to a hospital,” she said.
“My mind was blank. I was praying and thinking of my one-year-old daughter Martina. I had to be safe for her. I asked God to please let me survive or what would happen to her.”
In her confusion, Roy-Yson said she could not recall the name of her aunt, who worked as a nurse at the same hospital where she was taken.
“But I was lucky. Most of us who were brought to the hospital were injured. My body was full of ashes but that was all,” Roy-Yson said.
The victims lined up for the pay telephones and she was able to call up her mother, Aurora, at their home in New Jersey to tell her she was safe.
It was a different story for her father, Manuel, who was in Calasiao, who would not know until the next day if Maureen, his eldest daughter, had died or survived.
She said her brother, who was in Calasiao, saw the news on CNN and told their father of the attacks.
“I turned on the TV set and I was so worried because I had no idea about what happened to Maureen. I really thought she was gone. Communication lines were cut and there was no way for me to reach her and my wife,” the father said.
When he finally was able to connect to his family, Manuel said, he could not contain his happiness.
The experience taught Maureen some lessons to “stay close to God.”
“I am not very religious but I have a close relationship with God. I also keep close with my family because nobody knows when I will go. (America) is a very busy country and everyone is focused on his or her work. I think that should not be the case. We should spend more time with the family,” Roy-Yson, now a mother of three, said.
She said she was “relieved” by the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in May this year.
But she said Americans could not be complacent as Bin Laden’s followers “could be lurking just around the corner, ready to attack again.”
“There was much celebration on the streets of New York when Bin Laden was killed. I hope it is really the end of terrorism. But I know that everyone knows we cannot really be completely sure of our security,” she said.
Her father said Bin Laden’s death brought justice to the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“Even those whose family members survived the attacks are happy. They won’t fear anymore that similar tragedies could occur. But America should still be careful as some of Bin Laden’s followers may retaliate,” he said.