Czech who aided September 11th rescue efforts remembers the event six years on

Jiri Boudnik, photo:

Jiri Boudnik is a Czech architect who has been living in the United States for the last 20 years. On September 11th 2001, he witnessed the fall of the Twin Towers from his office in Brooklyn, and rushed to the scene to help. In the days following on from the September 11th attacks, he continued to assist the emergency services in their hunt for survivors. How? By designing a computer model of the World Trade Center as was, to help the rescuers find their way through the rubble. To mark the sixth anniversary of 9/11, Jiri Boudnik spoke to us earlier from his home in New York. I started by asking him what the mood was like in the metropolis this morning:

Jiri Boudnik,  photo:
"Well, right now we have heavy rain in New York, it looks like it's going to be like this all morning. So everyone is probably going to have to use an umbrella. And for the first time, the ceremony is not going to be down on the site of World Trade Center, but in an adjacent park, on Liberty Plaza. And so that is one difference from the previous years."

What are your own memories of September 11th 2001? Can you talk us through what happened to you on that day?

"I just remember a beautiful, crisp and sunny day. It was also Tuesday, just like today. I remember just the absurdity of seeing the two towers on fire, after we evacuated our building, shortly after nine in the morning. It just seemed very surreal. And following on from that, my trip across the Brooklyn Bridge, trying to warn the firemen and first responders about the potential collapse of the towers. That was also surreal."

And can you tell us more about your role in the rescue efforts, because you did help at the very beginning, but then you also made this computer model, so can you explain how useful this was for the emergency services?

The Department of Buildings in New York, which usually holds a plan of every single building in the city, didn't have authority, or a mandate, over the World Trade Center, and for that reason, there were no plans at the D.o.B. So, that first day I started looking for plans, which I was able to locate. And I made several copies for different organizations like the FBI and FTNY, so that they could better orient themselves in search of some of the key structural elements, such as the stairwells and elevator shafts."

Six years on, do you think that the collective memory, now, of September 11th is faithful to the kind of things you saw that day?

"I think that the experience of September 11th for me is still shaping. It is constantly shifting between regret, disgust, and something which I see in the media, which is the exploitation of the meaning of that day. So, I don't know, the call is still out on that one."