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Everything about September 11, 2001, was unprecedented. That day witnessed, among other things, the largest maritime evacuation in history. More than half a million people stranded on Manhattan Island were taken off by boat in the course of eight hours. By comparison, at Dunkirk in late May of 1940, some 338,000 allied troops were evacuated across the English Channel over the course of nine days. There is a moving short film called Boatlift about this amazing and massive instance of spontaneous cooperative order amidst chaos and destruction, which I highly recommend.
I was part of that 9/11 boatlift. I’m pretty sure that I was on the first boat, among the first refugees from Lower Manhattan to cross the Hudson. I don’t want to use the word “survivors” because, at least in my case, my life was never really in danger. My story is completely devoid of heroism. But I did witness the events of that day from uncomfortably close range, and an anniversary seems as good an occasion as any to write it down, before the memories, which are still vivid, fade.