Susana Schroeder is a junior serving on the ?Semester in Washington? program as an intern in Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA)?s office.
I awoke Wednesday morning to the sounds of many helicopters flying overhead. As an intern on Capitol Hill, I believed my time in Washington D.C. would be highly productive and exciting.
I have written press releases, attended committee hearings, and even observed Mexican President Vincente Fox address a joint session of Congress. Yet I never thought I would see the infrastructure of the country challenged by brutal acts of terrorism.
On Tuesday morning while walking up the stairs to work, I was shocked to see a woman running down the stairs, crying hysterically. I hurriedly rushed to the office, wondering what could have happened.
I arrived around 9 a.m., and saw four staffers crowded around a desk watching Headline News on a computer monitor. I joined the group, and watched a horrifying shot of smoke pouring out of both World Trade Center towers.
I immediately thought, ?It had to be terrorism. Two planes can?t not miss the World Trade Center on a clear day. What if the Hill?s next??
For the next half-hour, I sat at the front desk opening office mail while keeping a wary eye on the news. Suddenly, someone shouted, ?They got the Old Executive Office Building!? Sure enough, the news showed black smoke ? presumably from the Pentagon ? billowing over the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, beside the White House.
Then the congresswoman called, and she asked to speak to the Chief of Staff. I tried to transfer her to him, but the phone line did not seem to work, so I lost her call. This scenario occurred twice more, and I lost her call a second time ? the phone systems of congress were scrambled.
The Scheduler immediately started to bark orders, ?We?re closing the office. Congress is being evacuated. Nobody is walking home or taking the Metro.?
I caught a ride home with the Legislative Director. What should have been a quick fifteen-minute trip, however, became a long bumper-to-bumper journey that took almost an hour.
There was a mass exodus of pedestrians and cars trying to leave Washington. During the ride I tried to call my family, but my cell phone would not work.
For the rest of the day, I watched the news for updates and spoke with friends about the events. After notifying my parents that I was safe, I tried to call a friend who is a director at a hospital in New York City. I finally reached him at midnight.
He told me that he had spent the day driving sterile supplies between hospitals, and expected to spend the rest of the night in his office due to the expected increase in patients when people would be pulled from the rubble of the buildings.
On Wednesday, because I had the day off, I walked from my place in Adam?s Morgan to the White House. There was far less traffic ? human and vehicular ? than normal.
One of the guards by the building asked if I would like to take a self-guided tour.
Surprised, I said, ?I can walk straight into the White House? They haven?t closed because of the tragedy?? He smiled and said, ?There?s no line. Go on in.? Life goes on.
Schroeder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.