DENVER (CBS4) – On Sept. 11, 2001, the first pictures from inside the devastated World Trade Center came from Colorado photographers. Their pictures went out to the world. Now, a decade later, they’re recalling their remarkable experiences.
Their story begins the day before the attack. Monday, Sept. 10, 2001, the Denver Broncos played the New York Giants at home. The next day the world would suddenly change as the planes hit the Twin Towers. All aircraft were ordered grounded.
As a FEMA photographer, Jim Chesnutt was told to get to New York and the World Trade Center as quickly as possible. This where the New York Giants came in.
“The owner had a private jet. And so she was in contact with him, arranged for the use of that jet to get our team to New York and bring him home,” Chesnutt said.
But getting to New York was only a small step in the enormity of what had taken place.
“In most domestic disasters loss of life is mercifully limited. So this was different. There was no way to prepare for it. It was obviously a shock,” Chesnutt said.
Chesnutt’s job was to document the rescue efforts because other video photographers were not allowed in.
“There were fires burning all over. It was so dangerous that if a photographer or crew got lost or hurt or injured, it would distract from the rescue effort,” Chesnutt said.
Even now, 10 years later, it still hurts to watch, although with each new glance, new things catch the eye — cars in garages crushed under the weight, a subway train trapped beneath the surface, a bookstore, and travel desks for airlines.
Michael Rieger was there for FEMA as well with a still camera in hand. One of his most memorable shots is a firefighters taking home a fallen comrade.
“When I got back and was editing that first set I had to stop editing — very emotional just realizing what was going on. And also I was realizing the historical nature of what we were doing,” Rieger said.
Historical, and as Rieger noted, emotional, even religious. He was escorted to an area in the debris that had been labeled God’s House.
“One of the firefighters who had taken me into there was one of the firefighters who had discovered this area and he had asked me if I would take a picture of him there,” Rieger said. “He had not had his picture there and wanted a picture to remember his cousin who was lost in Tower 2.”
“There was this palpable sense of religious feeling going on there in some cases. It felt simultaneously like the scene of an unbelievable tragedy and it also had a certain feeling of it being a sacred place,” Chesnutt said.
They captured big pictures and the small details — massages for the rescue workers, catching a few winks, and the appreciation of the people of New York.
“The streets were lined with New Yorkers with signs saying ‘thank you’ and people would come and rush the cars and literally push sandwiches through the window,” Chesnutt said.
An attack that tore those buildings apart brought America together.
If you want to see more of Michael Rieger’s photos from rescue operations at the World Trade Center, there is an exhibition at Lapis Gallery located at 3971 Tennyson in Denver. The show is called “Remembering the Love.”