Standing, from left: Leilani, Horacio, Brendon, Yacinda, and Ernest
Dieterle. Seated: Catherine Vallejo and her mother, Greta van der Plaats.
The photo was taken at a celebration of Mrs. van der Plaats 80th
birthday, in 1998. Several months later, Yacinda and Ernest got married.
The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York affected the
Vallejo family at its very heart, because Yacinda Vallejo, 28, a graduate
of Concordia and sometime employee in the Arts and Science Deans
Office, and her husband, Ernest Dieterle, 30, were working there.
Fortunately, they escaped, but it was a day of high drama not only
in Manhattan, but also in Pointe Claire, where Yacindas mother,
Spanish Professor Catherine Vallejo, was able to link the young couple
and reassure anxious family members in at least four countries. What follows
is based on a phone log she compiled of those calls.
The day unfolds
Early in the morning, Catherine, who is chair of the Department of Classics,
Modern Languages and Linguistics, drives downtown to the outdoor parking
lot on de Maisonneuve Blvd., west of Guy St. Since she will be there until
after her evening class, she leaves it at the back of the lot, where four
cars will soon be parked ahead of it.
08:45 A plane
hits One World Trade Center.
09:02 A second
plane hits Two WTC. Yacinda Vallejo works for the brokerage firm Morgan
Stanley, on the 70th floor; her husband works on the fourth floor of Tower
In Pointe Claire, Horacio Vallejo, a physician, gets a call from his sister
in the Dominican Republic. Catherines mother, in Dollard des Ormeaux,
hears about the disaster on the radio, but is afraid to call, fearing
from Horacio Vallejo to his wife Catherine, at Concordia: Lourdes
called from Santo Domingo for me to turn on the TV. Both World Trade Center
towers were hit by airplanes. They are on fire.
call from Ernie, on a pay phone in Manhattan to Concordia: This
is an emergency! Theres been a terrible accident. A plane has hit
the Trade Center! Theres flames everywhere. Im seeing people
jumping out of windows high up in the Tower, and I dont know where
Yacinda is! Im calling from a fire station. . . I have to go. Someone
else needs the phone.
call from a payphone in Manhattan to Pointe Claire: Its Ernie,
Mr. Vallejo. Have you heard anything from Yacinda? My cell phone doesnt
WTC was a communications hub, and all the cell phones were disabled,
because a large antenna on One WT was knocked out when the tower was hit.
Catherine said later.
Ernie said there were long line-ups for the payphones, but people
were kind to one another, and kept their calls short.
phone call from Manhattan to Pointe Claire: Daddy? Daddy? Its
me, Yacinda. Im out. Im OK.
Yacinda had been on the 70th floor when the plane hit the neighbouring
tower. She and her fellow workers walked to the 59th floor, and took an
elevator to the 44th floor. At that point, another plane hit their tower,
and there was a mad scramble down the stairs. with people shoving and
yelling. A lot of people lost their shoes in their haste; others were
literally knocked out of their shoes by the impact. It took her 50 minutes
to get down to the street, and then Yacinda phoned home.
Ernests mother, in Wildwood, N.J., to Concordia: Its
Barbara, Catherine. My God, whats happening? Where are our children?
Theyre out! Ernie called earlier, and Yacinda just called.
Catherine leaves the Hall Building for the parking lot, waits for all
the cars to be removed so she can get out, and drives home to Pointe Claire,
arriving at about 10:30. The Vallejos other daughter, Leilani, 26,
a nursing student, is already there. Their son Brendon, a chef, has just
moved to New Zealand, where his flatmates wake him up to tell him about
the disaster theyve seen on TV. Brendon stares at the TV and says
in disbelief, My sister works there!
call from Manhattan to Concordia: This is Ernie. Can I speak to
Catherine? This is Marilyn [Malofy], the receptionist, Ernie.
Yacinda is safely out of the Tower, and Catherine has gone home to be
with her family. OK, thank you! . . . Oh, my God, the building
is falling down!
10:00 Two World
Trade Center collapses, burying Tower Four, where Ernie worked.
Ernie huddled with four other men under the stairs; he was a bit
confused on that call, Catherine said. Then he ran through
the dust storm and ashes northeast to the waterfront.
WTC (North Tower) collapses.
call from Hoboken to Pointe Claire: This is Ernie. Im across
the river in New Jersey, at Harborside Park. I want to stay and help.
There is a centre here to attend to any wounded arriving from the city.
Ernie, go home, we need to be able to contact you to pick up Yacinda
when she can get back. We havent heard from her since she called
from the street, and we dont know how far away she was when the
Pointe Claire to Jersey City, where Yacinda and Ernie live: This
is a message for Ernie from Catherine: Call us when you get home, please.
Jersey City to Pointe Claire: This is Ernie. Im home safe.
Is there any word from Yacinda?
call from Manhattan to Pointe Claire: Mom, its Yacinda. Im
in a hospital somewhere. Just after I called Dad, I collapsed on the sidewalk.
We had walked down from the 44th floor. A paramedic came by; they were
giving me oxygen when the tower started coming down. I had to jump into
a passing ambulance and I was taken here. I dont even know which
hospital Ill have to ask.
Im OK, theyre letting me go. Im going to try and
find transport to go home. Its quite well organized; down in the
main entrance there is a row of desks with signs giving destinations.
They are walking people to various points in Manhattan for further transportation.
Please call Ernie to let him know Im OK. Ive lost my cell
phone. Someone was using it when we had to run away from the building.
Pointe Claire to Jersey City: This is a message for Ernie: Yacinda
was taken to a hospital somewhere. She is OK, and going to try to get
home. Well let you know when we hear anything.
The Vallejo household in Pointe Claire was a madhouse, Catherine
said. Friends on cell phones on the back porch, in the basement.
Calls from friends and family in Ireland, Italy, the Dominican Republic,
Holland. There were six cars in the driveway.
call from Beekman Hospital, New York, to Pointe Claire: Mom, its
Yacinda. I went outside to orient myself. Theyre gone, Mom! Both
towers are gone! This is so awful . . . I saw a woman with her skin hanging
loose from her body, all burned, being carried by firemen. . . Im
going to walk to the docks with a group of people. There are all sorts
of boats there to take us where we need to go. It might be a couple of
hours. Dont worry.
call from Bayonne, N.Y., to Pointe Claire: Mom, its Yacinda.
I came across the river in some tugboat. Im in New Jersey, at the
Bayonne subway station. Ernie will know where it is. Tell him its
where we sometimes go for dinner. Its only about 10 minutes from
15:43 From Jersey
City to Pointe Claire: Hi, Mom and Dad. Were both home, safe.
But all those people . . . We can still see the smoke across the river
in Manhattan. My friend Thomas is missing. . .
Although Morgan Stanley employed about 3,500 people in the WTC, the company
suffered only 12 deaths, six of them security guards. Thomas was the only
friend Yacinda lost, but the shock was enormous.
She saw indelible sights: a man cut by falling glass, a man naked from
the waist down because of burns, the woman with loose skin flapping like
a plastic garbage bag. She thinks of the 91 elevators crammed with people.
She heard some crashing down from the 44th floor. In others, the occupants
hammered on the doors as the building melted and collapsed.
Like many who were less intimately affected, she watched television for
hours. Talking about it was difficult; there were long silences. However,
she took some counselling, and spoke with her family on the phone twice
a day. The Vallejos persuaded the young couple, with some difficulty,
to leave New York and spend a week in Pointe Claire.
Now theyre doing fine, and are both back at work. Ernests
office is in Rockefeller Center, on the 26th floor. Yacinda feels a strong
sense of loyalty to her colleagues. No one else can understand,
Yacinda and Ernest did so many things in the WTC complex they shopped
there, and met for lunch. Eventually, Yacindas cell phone and other
items that she had dropped when she was whisked away from the falling
tower were returned to her. Among them is a receipt for a skirt she exchanged
at a store in the WTC. It reads: J. Crew, 8:29 a.m., Sept. 11.
From her new office in Jersey City, she can see the Manhattan skyline,
and the gap that marks the place where she and Ernest used to work.
For Catherine Vallejo, the experience was an affirmation of the love and
strength of her extended family and the compassion of the people around
I cant tell you how many people have quietly stuck their heads
into my office, or spoken to me when Ive gone into the Deans
area, and asked me how things were, she said.
She is also deeply grateful for the technology that allowed her to be
the link between these two young people, and to find out they were safe
directly from them.
Days after the disaster, a prayer service was held for about a dozen victims
in New Yorks St. Patricks Cathedral. In Holland, a cousin
of Catherine was watching television. He suddenly spotted Yacinda among
the mourners, and cried out in recognition. Suddenly, he said, an unreal,
unimaginable event, belonged in some way to him.