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Dallas Red Cross Worker Remembers 9/11

Anita Foster with the Red Cross
Anita Foster with the Red Cross

Dallas, TX – Ten years ago, Anita Foster with the Dallas Red Cross was assigned to Ground Zero. She says the faces of families looking for missing loved ones remain with her a decade later, and make her better at her job. KERA's BJ Austin reports.

"Engine Six. The World Trade Center Tower Number One is on fire; the whole left side of the building. There was a huge explosion."

New York City firefighters respond to the unthinkable September 11, 2001.

"Send every available ambulance, everything you've got to the World Trade Center now."

In Dallas, Anita Foster with the Red Cross heard the first news reports at home and raced to work, ready to respond in whatever way necessary.

Foster: When the second plane hit, I was actually in the car and I was listening to the radio. And I will just never, ever forget the reporter that was on the ground in New York. I just remember him screaming a second plane has hit the second tower. And I remember driving and thinking to myself, what is going on? You get up. It's just a normal day. And then all of a sudden the whole entire world changes like that. And that's exactly what happened on that morning.

Three days later, Foster left for New York - the only one from the Dallas Red Cross Chapter to be called to Ground Zero immediately. Her job was to assist families looking for missing loved ones. Foster says she's responded to many disasters and tragedies, but this assignment made her fearful. Not for her physical safety. It was something else.

Foster: And I think I knew intuitively, but I couldn't put into words at the time that I would not return here the same person I was when I left. And I have never been the same since. We were just in hell. There was just no other way to describe it. I often describe walking down the streets at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan it was like being in a black and white movie. Literally, everything was covered in dust and there was no color anywhere. The only color you ever saw really was the American flag.

Foster says the more vivid details she remembers ten years later are the families' stories about their missing loved ones and - in many cases -- their anguish over the inevitable. She remembers Blanche.

Foster: And I met her, she came in. It was eight days after the attacks. And she could not find her boy. His name was Eric. He was 32 at the time. And he worked in Tower Two at this company. And he called her from the cell phone and let her know that they were evacuating the building and he would call her when he got downstairs. And he just told her don't worry, Mom. Everything will be fine. I love you.

"I hope they got everybody out. Be advised the Tower's down"

The fate of Tower Two was captured by an NYPD helicopter crew - the recording not released until this past March. "Be advised the whole North Tower's down."

Foster: And it was 8 days later when I met this women and she had not heard from him since. And we knew he was we knew. She knew, too. But she just wasn't ready to say it yet.

Eric's body was recovered six months later. Foster says she spoke to his fiance , who said being able to bury Eric brought some closure. Ten years later, Foster thinks of others who have not been able to do that. She says her heart aches for those with whom she shared a personal and a national tragedy.

Foster: You know I wish the whole day had not happened. But it did. It was just an honor to have the skills to go and just sit with families. And listen to them talk about their kids that they couldn't find. And you knew they were dead. You know, there were so many that we knew they were dead. And you would sit with their family and you knew it was just a matter of time before they came to that conclusion. It was tough.

Foster believes being at Ground Zero steeled her for just about any event. She says it made her a better, more compassionate responder. And, she says it made the Red Cross better organized and more prepared.

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.