Alaska eyewitness shares story

When Annalisa Hood comes home to Alaska from New York this week, she returns as an eyewitness to history.

Hood, a 23-year-old journalism student at the University of Alaska Anchorage, witnessed the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

“It's really scary,” she said. “I was born and raised in Alaska; you think you're so safe.”

That sense of safety is gone.

“I'm in a state of shock right now,” Hood said last Tuesday in a phone interview. “I just want to come home. I don't think I have ever been so homesick before.”

Hood was in New York for the College Music Journal's New Music Showcase.

Hood awoke to the news of people dying by the thousands in an act unknown to Americans since Pearl Harbor, an act that will leave a nation forever changed. Hood was across the bay watching the incident, waiting for anything, not knowing what to expect. The New Jersey apartment where she was staying, six miles from the city, was all too close to the target of a terrorist attack of devastating proportions.

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It was about 9 a.m. Tuesday when the phone rang. The woman Hood was staying with told her not to go downtown; there had been a terrorist attack and the World Trade Center was on fire. Hood's friend was so close to the building she could see people jumping from the towers in desperate attempts to escape the flames.

Looking out the window, seeing the unforgettable towers ablaze and billowing with gray smoke is an image Hood will not forget. For Hood, the sight seemed unreal.

“I can see the whole thing,” Hood said at the time as she cast a look out among the rubble and smoke that consumed the famous skyline of New York. “There's so much dust and debris. It's looks like a volcanic eruption. It's a huge plume of smoke.”

The second tower had fallen and the World Trade Center was gone. She saw the tops of the 110-floor towers rising above the clouds when she flew in, now they no longer existed.

“It's horrible, it's insanity,” Hood said. “It's a state of chaos.”

The New Jersey neighborhood was quiet; most people were still stuck in the city. The street in front of the apartment was empty. The roadways were shutdown and all public transportation was closed. People who work in the grand towers and buildings of New York's financial center were just looking for a way out.

“People are running out because that's the only way to get out,” Hood said.

Hood called her family around 6 a.m. Alaska standard time, wanting to talk to someone. She assured her relatives and friends of her safety. Like every other American, she sat and watched the news. Only when she looked out the window was the vision of the worst terrorist attack on United States soil too clear.

“I can see the (Hudson) bay and where the World Trade Center used to be,” Hood said.

Rumors of biological warfare were spreading; anthrax could have been on the planes. Defense measures have been taken, naval ships and F-16's had been deployed.

“There are still planes that are out there,” Hood said, not sure if the attacks were finished or had just begun. “I'm just hoping that the worst is over.”

She took a walk to get coffee at a nearby Dunkin Donuts. People were gathered around televisions; everyone was talking about it. Smoke from the towers was spreading through the blue sky. Walking down the streets, she was struck by the reality of the attack.

That morning Hood had planned to be in the city. She wanted to tour the maze of skyscrapers that extend through the clouds and down to the streets below, experience the culture and diversity of the city that has been called the center of the world.

“The twin towers are so tall. To think there's nothing left of it,” said Hood. “This is going to change the way we live our lives.”

Hood watched as people, surrounded by terror and destruction, the victims of a symbolic act of violence, pulled together. The people of New York waited in lines four to five hours long to give blood. Volunteers rushed to the assistance of firefighters and police officers struggling to pull people from the ruins.

As the hours passed and the fires continued to burn, people were cleared away from the clasped buildings. Hood was still watching the local news, fearing her flight home, and wondering how many of the 266 passengers that were killed, she knew.

“I knew on this trip I was going to do some soul searching,” she said, “but I didn't expect to be in the middle of the worst terrorist act.”