It was probably about 10:30PM, almost eight hours had gone by before the service company was able to find a way to turn off the steam. And so they did. There was no hesitation on either my part or my husband’s, as soon as we saw that the steam was off, we headed back to our building to see if we could get in and get our pets.
This ride in, was different than the ride from the city that we had taken earlier. The reality of our situation had started to seep in, we were not as numb as on the way to Long Island. We were worried, angry, sad, we felt helpless and lost. We were homeless, all our things were probably ruined. All of our daughter’s baby gifts and toys had been innocently snuffed out. But please just let our animals be okay I remember thinking.
We arrived in the city just before midnight, the traffic getting in had been especially insane on that evening. The closest we were able to get to our building was about four blocks. The streets had been barricaded. I located a policeman and asked if we could get by, I told him that our building was the one right next to the explosion, and that our pets were still in the building. He let us pass. When we got to the building, we strode up next to it, and were just going to walk right in…no such luck. We were stopped by a Fire Chief, who was as determined to not let us into our building, as we were to get into it. I told him that our cats were still inside, and if there was any chance that they could be alive after all this, that I wanted to get them out. They could be injured and if that was the case, time was of the essence. He escorted me up to our third floor apartment, they would not let both my husband and I up at the same time…too much risk…he didn’t want both of us to get hurt. The building looked like a burned out tenement. All the doors had been hacked off their frames, so as to gain access for rescue, the electricity was out, you could only see via flashlight, there was mud everywhere, pets were whining and crying in the halls as they blindly wandered around trying to find their people, or at least a way out.
The Fire Chief walked me into my apartment; I did not recognize it, except by its layout. I knew the path to the bedroom, I looked here first…the cats were always on the ledge at the bedroom window…this window was in the main trajectory of the blast, only three floors above a 100 foot wall of 400 degree steam. My mind was crowded with scary thoughts. My escort shone his light at the windowless window, and then down to the floor. I noticed what looked to be a round cat-sized lump on the floor. I nudged it with my foot, hoping to see some movement, nothing moved. I bent down to touch this lump; relieved, I discovered that it was a pillow that had been on the floor and was covered with mud.
This felt strangely encouraging…I had not discovered them dead yet. Could they be one of the animals crying in the hallways, and if they were, how would I ever find them. Our building was 18 floors, with 15 apartments on each floor, all with no doors. They could be anywhere or no where. We continued to look around, moving towards the front hall closet, right next to the front door, or at least what used to be the front door. The cats sometimes liked to hole up in this closet. I opened up the closet, shined the flashlight in toward the back, and four green globes shined back at me. My cats were scared, they were wet from the steam I guess, but they were alive, and I couldn’t believe it…they were okay.