Friends recall Sept. 11

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On Sept. 11, 2001, Irene Meyers was driving with her longtime friend Noreen Moore into New York for an extended visit.

They were just about through Washington, D.C., when the terrorist attacks took place. They made it through the city just minutes before it was closed after a plane flew into the Pentagon, and they kept driving into New York.

There, they volunteered for three months, serving food to construction workers, firemen and police officers who worked at Ground Zero.

Late Saturday, Meyers returned from five days of volunteering in Gautier, Miss., a small town along the Gulf Coast. About two weeks ago, much of the Gulf Coast, including New Orleans, was hammered by Hurricane Katrina.

Meyers was one of five Yampa Valley Medical Center nurses to help in Mississippi.

On Sunday, with images of destruction along the Gulf Coast fresh in her mind, she watched memorial services for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on TV.

Volunteering after both tragedies proved to be different in some ways, Meyers said.

At Ground Zero, there weren't survivors -- almost 3,000 people died in the terrorist attacks. Work was focused on identifying body parts and remnants of personal items, such as family photographs.

Volunteers left with vacant looks of horror on their faces, she said. "It was all death."

In Mississippi, Meyers and the other nurses organized a medical center at a shopping mall and saw patients every day there and at a nearby hospital.

Although many of the people she met had lost their homes, cars, clothes and everything else they owned, many still had family. And for that, they were thankful.

"People are really, really what matters, and we can live without the other things," she said.

There was one overriding similarity. A tragedy of that scale -- whether natural or a terrorist attack -- can bring out the best in people, Meyers said.

"It shows that we do care, that we do want to help," she said.

In Mississippi, patients would thank Meyers for coming all the way from Colorado.

"I said to them, 'You would do the same for us,' and they all looked at me and said, 'Yes, we would,'" she said.

Meyers said she was thankful for the support provided by people in Steamboat Springs, including nurses who remained behind to cover shifts, local businesses and individuals who donated items and services to make the nurses' trip possible, she said.

When Meyers and Moore arrived in New York, they stayed in a condominium across the Hudson River in New Jersey that had a clear view of Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center had stood. Both women had grown up in the area, and they knew all too well what it should have looked like. Instead of seeing the picture they knew in their minds, they watched an eerie scene for weeks, as smoke poured out of the area, which was dark because there was no electricity.

As they served food, they also listened to stories from the volunteers digging through the rubble. That was more important than providing food, as it gave volunteers a chance to process what they had seen, Meyers said.

But in the sadness, Meyers and Moore saw unity. People were hugging and talking to others they had never met.

"It was like being in Steamboat," Moore said. "You knew everybody, everybody knew you. Everybody was united because they had to be."

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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