By William J. Mellin, New York Credit Union Association president/CEO
On the morning of 9/11, several members of our staff who had traveled down to the city were preparing for a training event being held at Municipal Credit Union’s corporate office located at 22 Cortlandt Street.
22 Cortlandt Street is a short walk to The World Trade Center. Once the attack occurred, cell service was at best limited and sporadic. We were able to make contact a few times. We knew that the office was evacuated and that they were on foot moving as quickly as possible away from the site.
Initially all our staff was together, but in all the chaos one member got separated and could not be found. Later on we learned that she had fallen in the street. When she looked up all that she could see was the feet of hundreds of people running away. If it wasn’t for the kindness of one man, who couldn’t speak English, who reached down and guided her, and helped her resume her run, we don’t know what would have happened. Luckily, all of our staff eventually made it back to Albany and had escaped serious injury.
A few days later, I joined Association Board member John Gibardi in lower Manhattan. The trade center towers were still burning and it seemed like the entire city was covered with a dark gray cloud. After identifying ourselves to a police officer, we were allowed to travel past Canal Street, which, with few exceptions, was restricted to emergency personnel.
I have never been in a war zone, but I felt like I was in one that day. All one could see through the dark dust were the lights of emergency vehicles and cables and wires crisscrossing the streets. All you could hear were sirens. The air smelled of smoldering fires still burning. All of the cars that were parked on the streets were covered with a thick layer of dark dust. Most with owners that would never return.
During the day we visited with a number of credit unions and heard heart-breaking stories of members and staff that were either missing or perhaps did not survive. Everyone was so grateful to see us and to hear our plans of activating a disaster relief fund that would help credit unions move forward. Ultimately, thanks to the generosity of individuals and organizations from across the country, we were able to raise significant funds for the relief efforts and those affected by this tragedy.
In addition to the relief fund, we established a fund in memory of Lynne Irene Morris, the late niece of our CFO, Ed Kovalefsky. Lynne worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, located in the World Trade Center and, unfortunately, was one of the many lives lost that day. The fund awards annual college scholarships to 2 seniors from Monroe-Woodbury High School, her high school alma mater.
We established an emergency office in midtown Manhattan and worked diligently each day to communicate with our credit unions and coordinate assistance.
If there is a silver lining to those days it’s how credit unions and the entire country came together to offer assistance and to pray for New York.