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9/11: Daily Mirror chief reporter Andy Lines recalls his memories as US editor the day America came under attack

Bishop's Stortford resident Andy Lines was living just outside New York with wife Lois and their daughters Megan, then 7, and Rachel, 6, on September 11, 2001, when the United States came under attack from terrorists.

At the time he was US editor of the Daily Mirror. Lines, from The Stewarts, is back in New York this week for the 20th anniversary. Here are his memories of that horrific day...

“DAY THE WORLD CHANGED”. Those were the four words I scrawled – in capital letters – in my work diary on the evening of Tuesday 11 September, 2001.

Andy Lines' diary entry for Tuesday 11 September 2001 (50977714)
Andy Lines' diary entry for Tuesday 11 September 2001 (50977714)

Twenty years ago – it barely seems possible it has been so long since the most horrendous terrorist atrocity in modern history. Not surprisingly, I have very vivid memories of 9/11.

Unusually, perhaps, they centre on smaller, more personal things which seemed to me to sum up the sheer enormity of what happened that day.

On the morning afterwards I remember walking down a completely deserted 8th Avenue towards Ground Zero (as it was soon to be known around the world).

The World Trade Center shortly after the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Picture: Wally Gobetz
The World Trade Center shortly after the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Picture: Wally Gobetz

I waded through piles of ash. On the pavement I saw a boarding pass, a flight itinerary, a child's shoe.

As I had walked off the train at Grand Central station I watched two complete strangers approach each other. They shook hands and wished each other good luck.

In our own home town, where I lived with Lois, Megan and Rachel, tragedy was everywhere. Dozens of people died.

Our neighbour's car was left in the local railway station car park for three months – his wife was praying he may have somehow survived working in the North Tower. He didn't. His body was never found.

Andy Lines in a New York fire engine (50983399)
Andy Lines in a New York fire engine (50983399)

The dad of one of our daughters' best friends walked – walked – 28 miles home after escaping from the South Tower. Utterly traumatised and covered head to foot in ash, he didn't even call his wife to say he was alive. He just wanted to reach the safety of his family home.

Twelve hours later he put his key in the front door to the relief and shock of his wife. Their marriage couldn't cope with the subsequent trauma and they divorced a couple of years later.

Another friend, who commuted to midtown Manhattan, watched from her office as several people jumped to their deaths to avoid the flames.

She was three months' pregnant and was so traumatised, briefly, that she considered a termination as she felt she couldn't bring a child into “such an evil world”.

Our next-door neighbour stood in his back garden waving his fists and screaming encouragement to US fighter jets roaring overhead protecting the New York airspace to go and “kill the enemy”. His son joined the army because of the attacks and saw service in Afghanistan.

This all happened in one street in one small suburb of one American town.

Earlier that morning I'd just dropped off Lois, who was running a PTA fundraising book fair, and our girls at primary school just outside New York.

Before lessons, as usual, they recited with their classmates the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, but by lunchtime the girls were the last pupils there – everyone else had been taken home.

Many of them had dads who worked in the Towers. Luckily, all survived.

Amid the devastation there were some uplifting stories.

Andy Lines talking three days after the 9/11 attacks to New York fireman Mike Kehoe, who escaped from the World Trade Center seconds before its collapse (50981343)
Andy Lines talking three days after the 9/11 attacks to New York fireman Mike Kehoe, who escaped from the World Trade Center seconds before its collapse (50981343)

I remember finding hero fireman Mike Kehoe alive in his fire station at 7am three days later. Everyone believed he must have died after he was photographed on the Daily Mirror front page bravely going up the stairs of the doomed North Tower.

When I entered his station to ask about him I was told: “No, he made it, he's actually asleep upstairs.” A fellow firefighter went to gently wake him.

That morning there was non-stop torrential rain in Manhattan. After the short interview his colleagues insisted on giving us a lift in their fire engine, diverting to our hotel on their way back to searching the rubble of Ground Zero.

The streets were virtually deserted but I remember an elderly man drenched in the rain applauding the emergency vehicle as it drove past.

A pall of smoke sat above Lower Manhattan as the fires burned for weeks.

Our editor then was Piers Morgan. He came over to New York in November. We got on a helicopter and flew down the Hudson River towards Ground Zero with the pale grey smoke still spiralling high into the sky.

Even then it was impossible to comprehend the enormity of what had happened.

A little later I attended a memorial service to mark 100 days since the attack. After the ceremony I jumped on the train home and when I arrived at my stop I used the shared taxi service as usual.

A well-spoken elderly lady sat beside me. We both had order of service memorial programmes in our coat pockets.

“I lost my son,” she said softly. “I'm actually not coping too badly but it's been very difficult for my daughter-in-law.”

We spoke for a couple of minutes as the taxi drove on and when it was time for me to get out I shook her hand and asked her name.

“Mrs Brennan,” she replied. I went into the house and went online to try to find her details.

Within minutes I discovered FIVE men named Brennan had died in the Towers that day. I eventually managed to find the name of her son.

That brief encounter for me summed up the shocking scale of loss that occurred that day.

* Andy Lines grew up in Hatfield Heath, where he went to the village primary school, and attended the former Mountfitchet High School in Stansted. He started his journalism career in Bishop's Stortford doing work experience at the now defunct Herts & Essex Observer. He joined the Daily Mirror in 1995 and has been its chief reporter since 2013. His coverage of the 9/11 attacks saw him short-listed for Britain's Reporter of the Year title and the Mirror won Newspaper of the Year for the first time. Andy is a regular contributor to the Stortford Indie.

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