Over the last eight years, Lea Orth has watched New York City recover from 9/11.
Still, Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center towers came crashing down, remains vacant.
“There’s been a huge empty space there,” said Orth, who lives in New York and is frequently in Lawrence for volunteer work and to visit her children and relatives.
It’s a hole that makes things different, even disorienting.
“The towers were so amazing that they really were the identifying feature there. You always sort of knew where you were down there, based on where the towers were,” Orth said during an interview on Thursday.
She had an office across the street from the World Trade Center in 2001. During the attacks, she was still in her Upper West Side home getting ready for an 11 a.m. appointment inside one of the towers.
She remembers the day.
“People walked by … everyone was just full of gray; their hair, their clothes, their briefcases,” Orth said. “People just walked out, it was very quiet. It was just an extremely eerie day.”
Orth knows people who lost loved ones. She knows people who escaped. She knows people who had to leave their apartments fast. She knows people who lost their jobs for a long time.
The tragedy has affected her in many ways. It’s a situation that’s made her more inclined to donate to food banks and made her respect for firefighters increase.
“When everyone else was running away, they had rushed in to help,” said Orth, who would habitually walk by the fire station and acknowledge the firefighters on her way to work.
As Americans commemorate 9/11, Orth will remember her close friend who witnessed a plane crash into the building and kill her granddaughter inside.
She’ll remember the clouds of smoke and ash that were visible for days, even in her neighborhood six miles away.