9/11: Memories of the day from a provincial newsroom in the midlands
Though dependent on a local BBC radio station for updates, it was clear that a horrendous tragedy was unfolding
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The world was a very different place in 2001.
Even working in a newsroom - a district office of the then Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph - we did not have email or the internet at that stage (it would arrive a few months later), nor a telly. Those were luxuries for the head office in Kettering, not for us in Wellingborough.
We had a radio but our office was in a block attached to the concrete Swansgate shopping centre which blocked all of the medium wave stations, as well as all FM stations except for BBC Radio Northampton. It made our perspective on the unfolding tragedy unusual to say the least, as at first local programming continued after the first tower was hit because it was assumed it was just a horrible accident. Only a couple of hours in did the coverage become blanket, although for us it remained at the mercy of a scratchy signal.
As was customary, as the news broke at about 1pm UK time, we reporters got on the phones, getting comments from local civic leaders and others in the community, chasing up anyone with an American connection and putting together reaction pieces. Getting all our information through the radio about the September 11 attacks, with no way of corroborating what was said, we were reliant on the BBC reports for updates on what was happening. I remember vividly the fear in my colleagues' faces (and no doubt also in mine) when it was reported that dozens of planes were still "missing", with the implication that there could be many more strikes, although "missing" soon transpired to mean they were still in the air, rather than off the radar or not responding.
After the afternoon putting the stories together for the paper, I had a Wellingborough Borough Council meeting, so stuck around until 7pm. The council leader led the group in prayer for those who had died, and at that stage the estimated death toll was as high as 40,000 - about the population of Wellingborough at the time. The sense of shock was palpable, and the enormity of what had happened that day impossible to take in. The councillors, understandably struggled for the right words. You could tell that many people's minds were not on the meeting in hand, and in fairness I cannot remember what it was about.
But what most sticks in my mind from 9/11 is the drive home. Wellingborough to Rushden, where I lived, is a seven-mile drive down a fast, fairly straight dual carriageway, the A45. That night, while heading home at about 9pm, I have never seen people driving so slowly with no obstructions or warnings out. The collective grief and shock manifested itself as a need to drive at 30mph. It may sound almost comical, but it wasn't; it was as if there was an unspoken call to take care of oneself and others, and to respect the sanctity of life.