Watch CBS News

9/11 20 Years Later: Reporter Lou Young Looks Back On Covering The Immediate Aftermath

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Some of the very first people to arrive on the scene were those tasked with documenting the day.

Among those journalists were some of our own, including veteran reporter Lou Young.

"Down in that area in the collapse zone, the ground is like after a volcanic eruption: A thick cushion of powder drifting like snow in some places," Young reported after the September 11, 2001 attacks on America.

For Young, the job was a shield. In the first terrifying moments, it was something to keep the enormity of it all at bay.

"I remember looking up seeing the second tower, the gaping hole and flame coming out of it, and I started down Duane Street looking for the crew, and the ground began to rumble... We ran for a door jam, and the entire ground shook, and again the cloud of dust came again. It was very difficult. People crying," Young said.

In those first moments in a dangerous new world, we tried to collect ourselves. Reporter Amy Stone and Young managed to find a functioning live truck and began.

"You can see the building collapse, and all of a sudden it became a big cloud of smoke, and everybody started running, and we started running. And we were running, and we were being chased by a big cloud, smoke, getting darker and darker and getting closer and closer," Stone reported.

"Some people were speaking out loud, wondering if this is almost like Pearl Harbor Day. It certainly feels that way on the streets," Young reported at the time.

It was the first of so many reports. Shifts of 12 hours on, 12 hours off for us. One grim task after another.

"The city morgue just north of Bellevue Hospital is preparing to process an unheard of number of bodies tonight," Young reported at the time. "The blue brick building on First Avenue is where many of the surviving relatives and friends of the people killed today will get the final answer to their fears. Until a body is identified, it's only among the missing."

Complete Coverage: 9/11 Twenty Years Later

"They just took down all the information they could about him. What he was wearing and marks, rings, jewelry," one person said.

"She was in tower one on the 105th floor when the plane hit, and we're just looking for her right now," said another.

She called about five minutes after 9, letting her mother know 'We're trying to get out, we're doing the best we can. I gotta go,'" said another.

Another shift: Near Ground Zero, with volunteers and refugees.

"I'm out of here. I don't want to be anywhere near here, and I don't know when I'll come back," one person said.

"For many, the immediate reaction is anger and a thirst for revenge. For many others, it is simple, at being spared from the cataclysm. We talked with one man who says he should've been at work when this happened. He works at the World Trade Center and took the subway a few short blocks because he had a heavy package. When he came upstairs at the other end, it was already happening," Young reported at the time.

"We took two pieces from the World Trade Center. I was walking by as it was burning. I live a couple of blocks away," one person said.

"Why do you want those?" Young asked.

"To never forget," the man said, crying.

It was worse at night, drained of color and warmth.

"Tonight we could see the dogs working the rubble of the south tower, leading rescue workers to voids, still in search of survivors, still finding bodies," Young reported. "When you're down here, you're overwhelmed at once by the sheer size of the site and just all the thousands of details you can see when you're up close."

"What have they done to our city? A trauma center has been set up over a closed Burger King. A sign for an aid station near a closed men's store. Moving north, another view of the south tower," Young reported. "This is Broadway, empty except for emergency vehicles, like the set of a movie about a post nuclear world. The street lights are back on now. Portable cell towers are everywhere. The lights blink at a dust covered ATM. A message written on the wall of a phone booth states the obvious."

That message: "Time to Pray children."

"Our City Hall, which have not seen since Tuesday, are draped in bunting, in mourning flags at half staff. A giant American Flag on the municipal building proud and defiant like the city and country that have been defiled," Young reported at the time.

Lou Young contributed to this report. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.